After a modest decrease in January, the drop in activity for moldmakers accelerated in February. The MBI value for February was 40.2, which was a 6.0 percentage point decrease from the January value of 46.2. Declines were posted in most of the components that make up the MBI. Only the Employment and Export Orders components held steady in the latest month, and the Future Expectations remained in positive territory, but posted its lowest reading ever at 56.8.
The sub-index for New Orders of molds was 40.9, which means that the amount of new business in February was below the level of the previous month. Production activity registered an even steeper drop in February, as the Production sub-index was 36.4. The Employment component was exactly 50.0, so the total number of workers in the industry was unchanged. But the industry’s overall backlog declined sharply, as the Backlog sub-index hit a record-low of 20.5.
The Mold Prices sub-index for February was 36.4. This means that overall price pressure for new molds continued to increase. The prices paid for resins and steel remain high, as the latest sub-index for Materials Prices elevated to 75.0. Supplier Delivery Times slowed again, as this sub-index posted a value of 43.2 in February. The Future Expectations sub-index at 56.8 for February indicated that the majority of respondents remain optimistic about the future, but this was the lowest level ever recorded for this component.
Our forecast continues to call for rising activity in the plastics manufacturing and tooling industries as the year progresses. Some of the decline in the past two months is attributable to seasonal factors. The historical data show that the MBI often registers some deceleration in activity in the early months of the year. After this period of consolidation, the cyclical upturn in spending on new capital equipment and tooling will re-emerge in the coming months. The major threat to this forecast is still the high price of petroleum and other energy products.
Barring a major supply disruption, we expect energy and materials costs to continue gradually downward in the coming months. This means that our Injection Molding Business Index should continue to expand during the next few quarters. Following an estimated gain of 3 percent in 2005, this Index is forecast to register growth of at least 5 percent in 2006. Consistent gains in the Mold Business Index depend on sustained growth of 4 to 5 percent in the output of injection molded products. The trend in the moldmaking industry also lags the trend in the processing sector by about six months. So as demand for molded products expands in the coming months, orders for new molds will rise.