Plastics industry exports bottomed out in January and have been experiencing a steady increase since then, but the industry has lost more than 100,000 jobs in the past eight months, reducing employment to slightly less than 1 million.
Both exports and imports increased in 2008, but the apparent consumption of plastics in the U.S. declined 1.7 percent, with resins the hardest hit, said SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux, in his June 22 president's address at NPE2009.
That compares with one year ago when apparent consumption was down 1.3 percent.
The new data on trade, gleaned from government and American Chemistry Council data, painted a cautious but optimistic view of where the industry is headed.
In general, if you look at our decline, it is in line with the overall decline in manufacturing, Carteaux said. We are not worse off or better off.
The plastics industry's trade surplus grew from $10.9 billion in 2007 to $13 billion in 2008 which is more than twice as high as it was in 2006 when it stood at $5.8 billion. Exports jumped 6.7 percent to $51.6 billion, while imports rose 3 percent to $38.6 billion.
Since hitting a monthly bottom of roughly $2.7 billion in January, monthly exports have inched back up to $3.1 billion, as of April. But that is still significantly below the $4.5 billion total for monthly exports in April 2008.
Overall, the U.S. plastics industry did well in its market segments, despite the drop in production and shipment volumes and an increase in imports. Overall U.S.-produced plastics goods supplied about 80 percent of the U.S. market. Both resins and plastics products remained above 80 percent, while molds were just under 70 percent. But U.S. plastics processing equipment makers wielded just 40 percent of the U.S. market for that segment in 2008.
The fact that we are still over 80 percent market share suggests that the industry has made adjustments for what needs to be made in the U.S., particularly in food packaging and the medical industry, Carteaux said.
Carteaux said both exports and imports of machinery and molds were almost at balance from a trade perspective in 2008, but the industry took a hit on the resins side.
We are not only getting hit here, but around the world, he said.
Thermoplastic resins production, based on data from Arlington, Va.-based ACC, was 72.3 billion pounds in 2008, off 12.3 percent from 2007. The sales falloff wasn't as deep it fell 10 percent, to 74.2 billion pounds, Carteaux said. Thermoset resin production in 2008 was down 9.2 percent, to 583 million pounds, and sales declined 7.7 percent, to 603 million pounds.
The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is working with the Council of Manufacturing Associations to develop numbers about how the economic recession potentially could affect job recovery.
The groups want to show the Obama administration that manufacturing needs to be a key part of any recovery or stimulus package.
Carteaux said that previous data analysis indicates that it takes longer for manufacturing to recover from recession, and that employment doesn't peak as high as manufacturing becomes a smaller piece of gross domestic product.
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