Spinning our way through Spring

Stop and smell the flowers

The calendar says it's Spring, and, as this is being written, we have had a mild Winter with record, above-average temperatures, day after day. Should the last few weeks turn out to be stormy, as that rodent from Punxsutawney forecasts, I won't complain. The daffodils popped up the first of February, weeks ahead of schedule, with their bright green shoots that presage mild weather. With long stretches of leisure time and no snow blower action so far this year, you'd think I'd have had time to ponder on various themes, and that coming up with a subject for My View this issue would be a snap.

Not so. The energy I expended last year digging out of seven feet of snow seemed to stimulate my creative juices, and words flowed onto my computer screen. This year, a certain lethargy, brought on no doubt by bare ground through the first two-thirds of Winter, did not inspire me to literary heights.

Questioning the health of the manufacturing economy is always good for a few hundred choice words, and that choice is easy because there is so much to feast on thank to the media's appetite for negative news. And then there are the politicians seeking a headline they can grab to get some sound bites for that ravenous media horde that follow their every word looking for faux pas that can be turned against a candidate.

Well, like it or not, the news has been mostly positive here in the U.S. There have been so many good news headlines, such as the drop in unemployment and the increase in new hires, that media naysayers are reduced to placing a "but" or "however" in the subheads of the articles instead of the headlines. In the U.S., everyone seems to be good at putting a spin on news unfavorable to their position.

Years ago, in the recession of 1992-93, I used to track the printed news, reporting on the ratio of good to bad. In those more innocent days, tallying was easy. Today, I have to delve into the story to see what the spinmeisters have to say that squelches any buildup of optimism.

Among the resources I use today is a service that tracks the global steel industry on the premise that things that use steel are also things that somewhere up or down the line can use lasers. So far this year, about 41% of the news items are positive on the steel industry economy and 38% are negative, with the remainder neutral. Interestingly, this echoes the general attitude in all the various resources I use, which can best be summed up as: uncertainty.

A look at clippings from resources I use shows 59% are upbeat about the current global manufacturing outlook, with 29% negative, and 12% neutral. Not a very scientific survey, but the almost 2-to-1 ratio is a dramatic shift from early last year.

But - that dreaded spinmeister's word - even the good news is tempered a bit by nagging little glimpses of nascent weaknesses. A little lull in the medical devices industry, a slight unease in the China market, possible cyclical softness in the semiconductor industry that carried us through and out of the great recession, and that nagging European situation. Are you getting tired of the Greek problem?

Have no concern, number crunchers; ILS took this into account and our modest growth numbers for 2012 reflect these slight drags on the market. I'll be keeping my eye on the steel industry news as that industry's vagaries will be reflected in the health of the fabricated metal products industry, the market for those high-dollar-selling laser sheet metal cutters.

On a final note, as you read this, Spring will either be well ensconced or on the way, so enjoy that most delightful season that typically has us all in a good mood.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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