ATLANTA — Peter Mooney thinks the pickup in U.S. consumer spending for durable goods is upbeat news for industrial thermoformers.
Spending on durable goods surpassed non-durables in 2011-12, and should grow more quickly in the next few years, Mooney said in a keynote speech Sept. 11 at the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference.
During the Great Recession, durables spending fell heavily, greatly outpaced by non-durable goods, such as thermoformed food packaging — which Mooney said accounts for nearly three-fourths of packaging thermoforming in North America.
The industrial thermoforming sector is much more diverse, and Mooney said "structural will rise again" as the economy continues to recover.
"There is more pent-up demand for durable goods," said Mooney, who runs Plastics Custom Research Services in Advance, N.C. He cited a housing rebound, which drives sales of appliances and furniture. The economist thinks durables will grow faster than non-durables, at least for the near term.
He encouraged industrial thermoformers — a group well-represented at the Atlanta conference — to look ahead. Looking back is not so happy, since the sector fell by double digits in both 2008 and 2009. Packaging thermoformers had only one down year — a 2½ percent decline in 2009 — before they bounced back strong.
After the two largest markets for industrial thermoforming — enclosures and material-handling products — the thick-sheet sector is divided evenly among aircraft interiors, parts for heavy trucks and automotive, and signs and point-of-purchase displays, he said.
Packaging remains a huge thermoforming market. Mooney said non-structural thermoforming accounts for 80 percent of the total thermoforming business. Structural forming is about 20 percent.
Overall, Mooney said that improving productivity is the big challenge facing the U.S. economy. From 1950 through 1970, U.S. productivity grew an average of 2½ percent a year. That rate fell to 2 percent from 1970-90, then 1½ percent from 1990-2010.
Now it's growing at just 1 percent a year. "This acts as a major depressive of U.S. economic growth and job creation," he said.
He bemoaned what he called America's loss of economic vitality. "We're not thinking big and we're not investing big as we once did. Instead, incrementalism is the order of the day," he said.
He thinks one problem is the stock market, which fosters short-term thinking; he blamed "heavy-handed" government regulations.