April’s Index: 52

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Custom processors and medical market grow for fourth straight month.

With a reading of 52, the Gardner Plastics Business Index grew for the fourth month in a row, although the rate of growth decelerated to its slowest rate in 2017. (Index values above 50 indicate growth; values below 50 indicate contraction.) The start of 2017 was still the best period of performance for the industry since October 2014 to January 2015. The index for custom processors, in particular, grew for the fourth straight month.

New orders and production both grew for the fourth month in a row. However, new order growth decelerated for the second month, while production decelerated for the third straight month. The backlog index contracted for the second time in three months. However, the index still was significantly above its level in 2015 and 2016.

Therefore, the trend in the backlog index indicated that capacity utilization should increase in 2017. Employment increased for the fourth straight month. Exports have contracted at an accelerating rate since October 2016. Supplier deliveries lengthened at their
fastest rate since February 2012.

Material prices continued to increase, but the rate of increase decelerated slightly from last month. However, the index still was at its third-highest level since the survey began in December 2011. Prices received increased for the seventh time in eight months. The index has steadily improved since June 2015. Future business expectations remained strong, as the index improved somewhat from last month.

Petrochemical processors (compounders and materials manufacturers) represented the fastest-growing industry, showing strong growth for the fourth straight month. Electronics, computers, and telecommunications have grown in seven of the last eight months. Medical grew for the fourth straight month. Plastic/rubber products manufacturers contracted for the first time since November 2016. And automotive contracted for the first time since September 2016.

The North Central-East region grew at the fastest rate in April. The region grew for the fifth month in a row and the last four months had very strong growth. It was followed closely by the South Central region. The North Central-West, Southeast, and Northeast had more moderate growth. The West had rapidly accelerating contraction in the last two months. Its index in April was the lowest since the survey began in December 2011.

Plants with more than 250 employees contracted for the first time in 2017. Facilities with 100-249 employees have grown every month but two since March 2016. Companies with 50-99 employees grew for the fourth month in a row. Processors with 20-49 employees grew for the seventh time in eight months. Processors with fewer than 20 employees expanded for the fourth time in five months, although the rate of growth has been minimal. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Kline Jr. is part of the fourth-generation ownership team of Cincinnati-based Gardner Business Media, which is the publisher of Plastics Technology. He is currently the company’s director of market intelligence. Contact: (513) 527-8800; email: skline2@gardnerweb.com; blog: gardnerweb.com/economics/blog