CHICAGO Metal stampers, fabricators and roll formers have backed away slightly from a negative assessment of future economic activity.
Well under one-third (29 percent) of 126 member companies surveyed by the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) now predict general economic activity will dip over the next three months, down from 36 percent who forecast a downturn when surveyed in November. Almost half (49 percent) forecast a stable economic environment compared with last months 45 percent, and 22 percent see an upswing ahead vs. 19 percent in November.
The less bearish outlook comes at a time when companies say their order books are firming.
"We received quite a bit of new business this year. We are up about 45 percent for the year," the national sales manager for a Great Lakes deep draw stamper said, attributing this boost to a plant expansion and the installation of new presses, among other factors. His company delivers finished parts to the agricultural, construction, and lawn and garden equipment markets.
The new machinery is already full and the company might have to add a second shift next year, he said. "Were actually trying to slow down a little and will be happy with 10- to 15-percent growth next year," the stamper said.
A North American manufacturer of metal fasteners that are sold direct to automakers and their Tier II suppliers said his company is also doing better than expected.
"Our business is still up for the end of December and into January, higher than last year. We are Tier I to (General Motors Co.), Chrysler (Group LLC) and (Volkswagen AG), and Tier II to most of the rest of the world, and there are some new programs," he said. "Everybody is worried about the fiscal cliff and are asking if orders are slowing down. Everyone is unsettled by the perception that things are really screwed up, but theyre not."
The top executive at a company in the mid-South that performs metal stamping and tube end-forming agreed. "Things may be better than people expect," he said.
There is "an awful lot of money out there on the sidelines," and once certain macroeconomic certainties are settled, "it could move very quickly." Yet the current uncertainty is "overwhelming, so we are cautious about our costs," he added.
While a 5-point gain was registered in the number of metalformers stating that their average daily shipments had dropped in December compared with the prior three months (43 percent in December compared with 38 percent in November), a 5-point increase was also seen in the number of survey respondents projecting an increase in incoming orders over the next three months (33 percent in December vs. a month-earlier 28 percent).
Meanwhile, the Great Lakes stamper said he expects stable pricing for carbon steel products during the first quarter. "(Mills) are talking about a small increase, but they (his purchasing people) dont think that will hold throughout the first quarter," he said.