There's much reason for optimism for the rubber industry in 2007. Also, there's plenty of room for pessimists to enjoy themselves, too.
For those for whom the cup is always half full, there are these items of promise:
* Oil prices have tumbled to a 19-month low.
The health of the U.S. and world economy, including the chemical and manufacturing sectors, is dependent on the cost of black gold. This is good news for everyone except perhaps the oil companies. But Big Oil is busy counting its record profits from 2006.
* Maybe gridlock will be back in vogue in Washington. You recall gridlock-when the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch are so divided virtually nothing gets done? With the Democrats holding narrow pluralities in the House and Senate, and the lame-duck Republican president hankering for his next veto, maybe nothing substantial will come out of Washington for awhile. Can that be so bad?
* The Detroit auto makers are working at it. ``It'' is making vast structural changes to ensure their survival, including plant closings, employee buyouts and the search for partners. At least they are trying.
* Goodyear and Michelin have settled master contracts with the United Steelworkers.
* Many North American rubber industry companies are figuring out how to compete with competitors from low-cost nations, particularly China.
Ah, but for the cup-half-empty crowd:
* Some OPEC members, particularly nations unfriendly to the U.S., like Venezuela and Iran, are contemplating oil production cutbacks to jack up prices.
* Out of power for eight years, congressional Democrats have some agenda catching-up to do. Not that grandstanding, with its negative effect on legislation, is a certainty, but isn't there a presidential election in less than two years?
* The Detroit auto makers are still a mess.
* Bridgestone/Firestone and the USW are restarting contract talks. Will it be the ``Michelin model'' of peaceful negotiations or the ``Goodyear model,'' a nasty strike?
* China, India and other low-cost nations haven't gone away.
Check back next year and we'll tell you how it turned out.