Expectations of how the industry will fare in 2004 depend on perception-do you prefer the ``half-full cup'' forecast or the half-empty?
Half-full-the GDP is expected to rise a healthy 4.2 percent this year, and could pull the U.S. rubber sector along with it. Half-empty-as a mature industry, the rubber business generally doesn't keep pace with the GDP.
The optimist is excited that new car and truck sales in North America are expected to rise to 17 million units from 16.8 million last year. The pessimist points out that doesn't match the near-20 million unit level of a couple of years ago.
The positive view is that still is a lot of vehicles, and the rubber industry is very tied to how the auto industry performs. The negative spin is that much of that vehicle part production is migrating to low-labor-cost nations, especially China.
Both cheerleaders and naysayers recognize this is a presidential election year, and know what that means. The fine American tradition of the president doing everything he can to get re-elected means Dubya will work hard to make sure a faltering economy doesn't cause him to share his father's one-term fate.
President Bush's agenda, among other things, includes making the latest tax cuts for business permanent. That could be real plus for business, along with various other initiatives. One of those is further support for a program to help small and medium-sized manufacturers.
But...always a but...such programs cost money. Add programs but cut taxes-only in government can you make that work.
On the labor front, the contract between Goodyear and the United Steelworkers of America was reached without a work stoppage, and offers a pattern for the remainder of the tire industry. That's a plus. The minus is Bridgestone/Firestone and the union remain deadlocked in their negotiations.
Some good expectations, some bad. Any way you cut it, though, business just has to be better in 2004 for the rubber industry. The only way to go from down is up, after all.