I just finished going through all 24 issues of our publication for the year, excluding this one, putting together the year-end wrapup of news events.
That's 580 pages of copy, 32,454,320 words. The word “plant” appeared 5,330 times; “solutions,” 310 times; “profits” 611, up from 2009; and the phrase “in the red” 244 times, way down from 2009.
And now my eyes hurt and I have a headache.
OK, so I'm making up all those numbers, except for the number of issues. It sure seemed that way, though.
Speed-reading so much copy reveals various trends in the rubber industry that emerged throughout the year. First and foremost, the Great Recession has changed into the Great Uncertainty, which is an improvement.
There were an awful lot of dire predictions that, in hindsight, were off a bit. Thankfully.
The big bank bailout didn't cost the country $700 billion—more like $25 billion. That's still a lot of billions, but a fraction of what the Chicken Littles were predicting would be lost.
The auto industry bailout didn't turn the country into a socialist state. Instead, GM is back being public, Chrysler will be trying to spread its wings soon, perhaps a million auto supplier jobs were saved, and the taxpayers didn't take such a beating, after all.
More specific to the rubber industry, pent-up demand for everything seems to be overflowing. The result has been higher-than-expected sales, particularly of tires and automotive-related goods. What happens when that spending spree expires, as you know it willàhmmm.
Another very strong theme that continued to run through the industry is the rising price of raw materials. Natural rubber prices, in particular, are at historic levels.
All this means a month didn't seem to go by without another tire company raising prices and blaming it, reasonably enough, on higher raw material costs.
2010 also was a year of big changes for some of the major trade associations in the industry.
The tire manufacturers always dominated the Rubber Manufacturers Association; now they are the RMA, after the group's non-tire members split off to form their own group, the American Association of Rubber Manufacturers.
Meanwhile the ACS Rubber Division moved to take advantage of the growing importance of the health care sector to the rubber business. The division changed its next big expo, next fall in Cleveland, to a rubber expo and advanced materials exhibition.
It's a bold move, trying to attract an audience that already is served by more-general trade shows. The outcome will be worth watching.
The last big theme prevalent for the year was a characteristic the rubber industry always has had: Its resilience. Companies come and go, markets change, competition is always tough, customers are demanding. Despite it all, a surprising number of players in the rubber field made it through the economic downturn, bloody but unbeaten.
Good for them.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.