Processing market leveled, latest research reveals.

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After strong growth in the first three months of 2013, the industry has leveled off.
For the last several months, larger plastics processors have experienced better business conditions than smaller ones. However, the discrepancy between the two has narrowed.

Processors with more than 50 employees registered a lower index level in July than in June. Processors with more than 250 employees still grew at a significant rate; processors with 100-249 employees moved from expansion to contraction; and those with 50-99 employees saw accelerating contraction. Smaller processors experienced better business conditions, though. Plants with 20-49 employees expanded for the first time since March 2013, while the smallest facilities contracted at a slower rate and saw their second-highest index level since September 2012.

New orders contracted for the first time since December 2012. Production grew for the seventh straight month, but the growth rate was the second slowest in 2013. Since production has remained noticeably stronger than new orders in 2013, backlogs continue to contract at a significant rate. Employment expanded in July, as it has for every month but two since December 2011. Exports remain mired in contraction. Supplier deliveries lengthened but at the slowest rate since December 2012.

Material prices continue to increase, but the rate of increase has moderated since the first quarter of 2013. Prices received have increased at a faster rate in each of the last three months. Future business expectations have remained fairly constant in 2013 and are comparable to the level seen in the second quarter of 2012.

Regionally, business activity expanded significantly in New England. This has been by the best performing region in 2013, growing every month this year. The West South Central was the fastest growing region in July, growing for three consecutive months. Also expanding were the West North Central, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic. The East North Central region moved from expansion to contraction, while the Pacific contracted at a faster rate.