(From the Jan. 23, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—Here's our forecast for the rubber industry for 2012: We have no idea. In fact, nobody does, really.
Predicting how the rubber business will do this year is kind of like a doctor trying to make a medical diagnosis. Despite all that science has accomplished and the vast experience the medical field has accumulated, figuring out exactly what may be wrong with a person often remains an educated guess. A human is a complex piece of machinery, subject to random and unknowable factors.
So is the rubber industry.
Consumers have been buying cars and are predicted to continue that trend next year—a good situation for many rubber companies, since roughly half the industry's goods end up in/on vehicles.
But what if the U.S. and its allies mix it up with Iran, and oil is cut off. There goes gas prices, and with it car sales. Up go synthetic rubber prices.
Or maybe the euro zone's debt crisis throws the world back into recession. Or wet weather ruins natural rubber tapping.
Then again, perhaps peace will break out in the Middle East, Europe solves its problems and the weather plays nice.
About the only certainty in the world is that election year politics in America means nothing of substance will get done in government. It's the silly season, folks, and every word, every action that comes out of or concerning Washington is tainted with politics. Welcome to gridlock.
Nevertheless—despite all the aforementioned caveats— the U.S. economy is showing some improvement. The rubber industry has spent years adjusting to dismal business conditions and, at this date, seems to be steadily, slowly, finally, recovering. Look around the business and you might see that long absent creature, optimism.
It has been long overdue.