(From the April 2, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—There's optimism out there. In the rubber industry. In the non-tire manufacturing end of the rubber industry.
Who'd have thought?
No one is boasting much about it, and plenty of economic traps still lie in wait, but there is evidence that prospects for rubber industry companies are looking up. At least a bit.
Certainly, on the tire end there was lots of good financial news from last year, as companies released their 2011 results in recent weeks. Nearly all the major tire manufacturers had strong years, a lot of it coming from the original equipment market. Strong new car sales meant more OE tire sales.
This year, not so great. More of a normal year, with moderate growth rates.
The non-tire side seems poised to do better.
The Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers has come out with a survey of its members—non-tire rubber goods manufacturers—that shows business for this sector was strong last year. For 2012, 72 percent of the survey respondents said they anticipate sales improvement.
Admittedly, we're talking about a small sampling of companies: the ARPM, a relatively new organization, got responses from 40 members. But these firms do represent a cross-section of the non-tire universe in the U.S., so the study does offer some merit.
There are other signs of improvement in the industry's fortunes.
Plant closings and layoffs indicate distress in the rubber business, and there has been relatively few of these negative stories for several months now. Instead, a number of manufacturers have disclosed capacity expansions to meet expected growth.
Finally, if you want to drill down to what human beings, rather than companies, are feeling about themselves these days, look no further than the admittedly unscientific poll appearing on our website, www.rubbernews.com.
Visitors to the site were asked if they'd want their children to work in the rubber industry. Seven years ago, 64 percent said no way, and just 25 percent said they would. Today, 41 percent said yes, they would want their children in the industry, and 38 percent said they wouldn't.
Anecdotal or not, that's a positive change in perception of the future of the business.