At the beginning of a new year, newspapers often take a moment to review the stories and headlines that editors considered most important in the previous 12 months.
This issue of Plastics News is largely devoted to looking forward — not back. Our annual Economic Outlook special report includes 10 stories where our reporters are using their expertise, and talking to leaders in their respective fields, to give their best predictions on the outlook for 2010.
But it's still fitting and proper to take a look back on 2009, a year that many in the plastics industry would like to forget.
But rather than me telling you what I consider the top stories of the year, let me share what you, the readers of PlasticsNews.com, considered the biggest news. Here are the 20 most-read stories from our Web site last year.
To help make some sense of the stories, let's categorize them:
* Changes in the resin distribution market were huge in 2009, and a couple of the biggest stories made the top 20. On March 18, we got the ball rolling with our No. 8 story of the year, the report that Sabic Innovative Plastics US LLC was finalizing an engineering resins distribution deal with Ashland Distribution.
On April 3 we followed up with a story on some distribution changes that were, in part, a result of that deal, involving BASF Corp., Entec Polymers/Ravago Group, M. Holland Co. and Amco Plastic Materials Inc. That was the No. 18 story.
On July 27 we posted another related story — a Q&A interview with Charlie Crew, president and CEO of Sabic IP — which was our No. 1 most-read story. Crew touched on topics beyond distribution, including the tough economy, Sabic's plans for selling polyolefins in North America, and the company's NPE 2009 exhibit.
* Resin pricing is always a top attention-getter in this industry. A Feb. 19 story on polyethylene and polypropylene price hikes ranked No. 17 on our list. Later in the year, a Sept. 24 story on PP, PET and PVC price increases ranked No. 15.
Our big Oct. 12 overview on the outlook for the resin market in 2010 ranked No. 3 — I imagine because nearly everyone in the industry would like to know what prices are going to do in the future. Break out the crystal ball!
* PlasticsNews.com is all about breaking news, and many of the top stories each day fall into the general “you saw it here first” category. Our No. 6 story, “NPE moving to Orlando for 2012 and 2015,” was a global scoop, beating dozens of news Web sites and blogs in Orlando — and in Chicago.
* Bad news tends to attract readers — you know how people slow down on the highway to see a wreck. A couple of fatal accidents at injection molding plants were the No. 2 and No. 7 stories.
There's a good explanation for that: Thousands of PlasticsNews.com readers are responsible for safety at their own molding plants. Whenever a fatal accident occurs anywhere in the industry, they
take the opportunity to review their own safety procedures to ensure that they don't make the same mistake. Some plants even shut down temporarily to reinforce safety rules with workers.
A pair of minor emergencies — no injuries were reported — at Sabic and Dow Chemical Co. plants in October ranked as the No. 13 story.
* We might remember 2009 as “The Year of Chapter 11,” because some of the most-read stories were about companies filing for bankruptcy.
The most ominous story of all — a March 23 report from the Plastics News Executive Forum, warning that around 1,000 plastics processors could enter liquidation by September 2010 — ranked as the No. 12 story.
Pliant Corp.'s filing — its second Chapter 11 in three years — was our No. 19 story. Later in the year, the Oct. 13 story that Berry Plastics would buy Pliant ranked No. 5.
A March story on Lear Corp. considering reorganization (the company actually filed on July 7) was the No. 10 story. The March 10 news that Milacron Inc. had filed for reorganization was the No. 4 most-read story. (The new Milacron LLC emerged about six months later.)
One of the biggest Chapter 11 filings in U.S. history had plastics industry ramifications, too. Our June 1 story on General Motors Corp. owing millions of dollars to plastics part suppliers was the No. 9 story.
LyondellBasell Industries AF SCA filed for Chapter 11 in late 2008, and speculation on the company's future kept it in the spotlight. Our Oct. 6 story on the company's plan for an initial public offering ranked No. 20 — although now there's speculation that Reliance Industries Ltd. might buy the company instead.
* In a typical year, mergers and acquisitions are among the top stories on PlasticsNews.com. Sure, 2009 wasn't a “typical year,” but a couple of big deal-related stories still managed to break into the top 20.
Meridian Automotive System Inc.'s plan to sell seven plants to Decoma International, featured in a June 3 story, ranked No. 11. Also, a July 31 story on Dow's plan to try to sell its styrenics and polycarbonate business ranked No. 14.
* Finally, No. 16 doesn't really fit into a category with the others, though there are others in our top 50 that are similar. It's a little story I wrote the evening of Oct. 5 about Dow getting into the business of making solar shingles. I imagine the story was popular because it was the first many readers heard of the plan, it had a good sustainability angle, and it's always interesting when a resin supplier dabbles in injection molding.
I also happen to think it was pretty well-written.
Thanks to all of our readers, in print and online, for your loyalty and support.
Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”