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Metalformers’ first-qtr. outlook improves

Keywords: Tags  Precision Metalforming Association, PMA, shipments, new orders, economic activity, election, fiscal cliff, automotive industry Corinna Petry

CHICAGO — Although members of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) reported slightly weaker average daily shipments in early January compared with a month earlier, their expectations about incoming order rates and first-quarter economic activity have improved.

A little more than 20 percent of PMA members said their average daily shipments are higher than they were three months ago, a decline of seven percentage points from December, while members seeing below-average shipments fell to 41 percent from 43 percent.

Metalformers speaking with AMM Jan. 15 suggested that the national election results and the fiscal cliff skirmishing may have cast a pall over business. Customers still aren’t pulling the trigger on capital investment, so outside of the automotive supply chain, sales are a bit sluggish.

"I would categorize shipment and sales activity as slow," a source at a Kentucky-based wire drawer said. "Some are busier than others. The automotive market is still busy. Overall, (sales and shipments) are not terrible, but they are below what we consider average."

His business began to slow down in October. "We thought it was because people were apprehensive about the election, but it hasn’t come back yet," he said. "I’m not injecting a red-and-blue argument here, but I don’t think business was happy with the outcome. I call on people, and I hear a lot of that."

An Ohio-based metalformer executive agreed. "We see business as stable," he said. "It’s not growing (and) it’s not shrinking, pending the resolution of issues in Washington."

A source at an East Coast stamper said that customers have provided all sorts of reasons for not sustaining orders at the same pace as a year ago. "They say it’s requirements-driven or inventory adjustments or schedule changes," he said.

But those who supply the auto market are seeing demand for automotive stampings, parts and subassemblies approach pre-recession levels.

"I guess people went so long driving their same old car that there is a lot of pent-up demand," the wire mill source said. In addition, manufacturers "freaked out about the (2011 Japanese) earthquake, and that brought even more business to the U.S."

Some 32 percent of the 131 member companies responding to the PMA’s January survey predicted that the economy will improve in the first quarter, up from 22 percent in December, while the number forecasting an economic downturn fell to 18 percent from 29 percent.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of respondents said that incoming orders will increase this quarter, up from 33 percent last month, and the proportion of those predicting a decrease slipped to 25 percent from 28 percent.

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