Gardner Business Index at 55.2 in March

As the year’s first quarter closed out, the trend was growth and expectations were that growth would continue.

With a reading of 55.2, the Gardner Business Index in March showed that the US composites industry had grown for a fourth month in a row. The industry expanded at
 a rate virtually identical to that recorded in February. And February’s was the fastest overall rate of growth seen since the late spring and early summer of 2014.

There was an expansion in new orders for 
a fourth consecutive month, but the rate of
 growth dipped slightly from that reported for
 February. The production subindex grew for
 the ninth straight month in March and did so
 at a slightly faster rate than in February. As March closed out, the general trend for new
 orders and production had been positive for
15 months. The backlog subindex increased in
 March for a second straight month. It had been 
trending upward since July 2015. The continuation in March indicated that there would be increasing capacity utilization in 2017. Employment also increased, and did so for an eighth consecutive month. The rate of growth in employment had been constant since December 2016. Exports decreased for a second straight month in March, and supplier deliveries lengthened significantly during the first three months of 2017.

Beginning April 2016, material prices had increased at a consistently strong rate, and that subindex had remained just below
 60 for most of that period. But, in February and March 2017, that subindex rose above 70 for the first time since the GBI survey was first recorded in December 2011. Prices received increased at an accelerating rate for a fifth month in a row, increasing at their fastest rate since September 2014. The subindex had trended up since January 2016. Future business expectations remained strong in March, but the subindex did dip below 80 for the first time since December 2016.

In terms of markets served, electronics posted strong growth.
 As March closed out, this subindex’s growth had been strong in three of the previous four months. The automotive industry grew for a fourth straight month. In March, it grew at its fastest rate since December 2013. The aerospace index grew for the fifth month in a row and the seventh time in nine months.

Regionally, the US South Central was the fastest growing in March. It posted expansion at an accelerating rate for a third straight month. Both the South Central and the Southeast posted a subindex above 60. The Southeastern region grew at a robust rate for a fourth successive month. The North Central-West and North Central-East maintained their strong rates of growth. However, the West and Northeast contracted.

On average, composites manufacturing facilities with more than 250 employees grew for a fourth month in a row, the last
two months with an subindex recorded above 60. Plants with 100-249 employees, at the end of March, had seen strong growth for eight successive months. Companies with 50-99 employees grew for the third time in four months. Companies with fewer than 20-49 employees expanded for a fourth straight month, and their subindex was above 60 for the second month in a row. Finally, companies with fewer than 20 employees posted growth for a second straight month.

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