Gardner Business Index at 54.1 in January

The US composites industry looks as strong as it has since early 2015, with expectations the highest in years.

With a reading of 54.1, the Gardner Business Index showed that the US composites industry grew, in January 2017, for a second straight month. In January, the industry grew at its fastest rate since July 2014. In fact, the Index showed that during the second half of 2016, the industry had performed its best since the first half of 2015. Seen against the backdrop of other economic trends, I think this is a positive sign for the US composites industry in 2017.

New orders grew at an accelerating rate 
for a second straight month as that subindex 
reached its highest level since June 2014. The 
production subindex increased significantly
 in January. Production grew at its fastest
 rate since March 2014. Although the backlog 
subindex continued to contract, it nevertheless had shown general improvement since
 June 2016. Employment increased for the sixth consecutive month, growing at its fastest rate since a spurt in March 2015. Exports increased in January for the second month in a row. Supplier deliveries lengthened for the second time in three months.

Beginning in April 2016, materials prices increased at a consistently strong rate: at subindex remained slightly below 60 for most of the intervening period. But in January, the rate of materials prices increase went up, reaching its fastest rate since June 2014. Similarly, Prices received increased at an accelerating rate in January, for a third month in a row — this subindex has trended up since January 2016. After a sharp spike in November that coincided with the US elections, and a further bump up in December, the future business expectations subindex decreased slightly in January. However, the subindex was still at its second highest level since GBI survey results were first recorded in December 2011.

Among principal markets served, the aerospace subindex grew for the fifth time in seven months, and the automotive subindex grew for the second month in a row, although the growth rate was minimal in January. Other manufacturing, which includes a lot
 of miscellaneous consumer goods, grew for the first time since September 2016.

Regionally in the US, the North Central-East experienced the fastest growth for the third time in four months. In January, it grew at its fastest rate since the survey began. The North Central-West grew almost as fast, and experienced upward movement for the third time in five months. The Southeast grew for the second straight month, but the South Central and West, although they posted growth in January, showed upward progress only at marginal rates.

Composites manufacturing facilities with more than 250 employees grew for the third month in a row in January. Plants with 100-249 employees, as January closed out, had posted strong growth for six months. In January, in fact, they grew at their fastest rate since the survey began. Companies with 50-99 employees expanded for the fourth time in five months. After two previous months of moderate contraction, companies with fewer 20-49 employees expanded for the second month in a row. Companies with fewer than 20 employees, however, contracted for a fifth straight month. 

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