Plastics Industry Association: Plastics machinery shipments stayed low in 2019 despite Q4 uptick

The value of primary plastics machinery (injection moulding and extrusion) shipments in North America increased in Q4 2019, according to the statistics compiled and reported by the Plastics Industry Association’s (Plastics) Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES).

Primary plastics machinery shipments (Source: Plastics Industry Association, CES).

The preliminary estimate of shipments value from reporting companies in Q4 2019 totalled USD 316 million—a 7.7 % increase from the previous quarter. While the shipments of injection moulding rose 9.6 % in Q4 2019, single- and twin-screw extruders shipments decreased 0.9 % and 7.7 %, respectively. Although the Q4 2019 value of primary plastics machinery shipments improved, from a year ago shipments were 16.2 % lower. The shipments value of twin-screw extruders fell significantly by 35.2 % and 12.3 % for single-screw extruders. Injection moulding machinery shipments value was down 14.9 % from Q4 2018.

“The fourth quarter numbers confirm weaker 2019 plastics machinery shipments compared to 2018. Weaker business investment spending in 2019 due to uncertainties from trade and tariffs and overall weaker manufacturing activity explains the low numbers of plastics machinery shipments,” according to Perc Pineda, PhD, chief economist of the Plastics Industry Association. “Our projection of a 2.3 % GDP growth in 2019 was on point based on the advanced estimates of the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. We expect another year of moderate US economic growth. However, if business confidence turns optimistic this year now that there have been positive developments on trade and tariffs, and interest rates are expected to stay low, we could see better numbers for plastics machinery shipments,” Pineda added.

The CES also conducts a quarterly survey of plastics machinery suppliers that asks about present market conditions and expectations for the future. In the coming quarter, 69.4 % of respondents expect conditions to either improve or hold steady—a reversal of the 39 % that felt similarly in the previous quarter. As for the next 12 months, 73.5 % expect market conditions to be steady-to-better, which is up from 63 % in the previous quarter’s survey.

Trade and tariffs issues in 2019 negatively affected the plastics machinery trade. Exports of plastics machinery totalled USD 352.8 million in Q4 2019—a 6.8 % decrease from Q3 2019. Mexico, Canada, and Germany remained the largest US export markets. The combined exports to these countries in Q4 totalled USD 157.0 million. China was the fourth-largest market in Q4 with plastics machinery exports totalling USD 22.7 million. Imports of plastics machinery fell 5.4 %. Lower exports and imports have caused the plastics machinery trade deficit to decrease by 4.2 % from Q3 2019.