Washington — The value of North American shipments of plastics processing machinery declined by 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2017, down from the first quarter a year earlier, and it marked the third consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines, the Plastics Industry Association reported June 19.
The Washington-based trade association's Committee on Equipment Statistics reported a preliminary estimate for shipments of primary machinery — injection molding presses, extruders and blow molding equipment — totaled $305.3 million in the first quarter, down from $330.1 million in the first quarter of 2016. The shipment figure was down 14.4 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016, which was $356.7 million.
Economist Bill Wood, who analyses machinery numbers for the Plastics Industry Association, said shipments plateaued in mid-2016, "but then it appeared to roll over in the past few months."
"The monthly comparisons will be difficult for another quarter or two, so positive growth this year remains unlikely. But the economic fundamentals in the U.S. should continue to grind gradually higher, and global demand is also expected to improve this year," said Wood, who runs Mountaintop Economics and Research Inc. in Greenfield, Mass., as is also economics editor for Plastics News.
Wood said that if Congress passes corporate tax reform this year, "then an uptrend in the machinery data could re-emerge in 2018."
The dollar value of injection molding machinery shipments fell 14.5 percent in the first quarter from the year-ago first quarter. That sharp drop in the injection molding press sector was mitigated by gains in the other reporting segments measured in year-ago dollar value numbers. The value of single-screw extruders jumped 59.1 percent. Twin-screw extruders increased 8.3 percent
Blow molding machines skyrocketed in value by 90.4 percent in the first quarter, the trade group said.
Meanwhile, auxiliary equipment continued to grow in the first quarter. New bookings from reporting companies totaled $133.5 million, an 11.3 percent increase from the first quarter of 2016, and a gain of 5.5 percent from the fourth quarter of 2017, a seasonally strong year-end period.
In the Committee on Equipment Statistics survey of plastics equipment suppliers, 87 percent of respondents expect market conditions to hold steady or improve during the next year.
The geographic outlook was mostly steady in the first quarter. North America remained the region with the strongest outlook. Mexico was expected to be steady or better. The outlook for Latin America was more optimistic, while Europe and Asia had lower expectations than previous quarter.
Survey respondents said packaging should be the strongest end market in the coming year. Automotive demand should hold steady. Appliances and construction are bouncing off of recent lows. Expectations slipped, from the last quarter, for the industrial, medical and electronics sectors.