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May & April Shipments UP!

Instead of Dr.

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: July 5, 2010

Instead of Dr. Doom, for at least this month perhaps I should be "Dr. Love." It appears that our industry has had an increase in shipments in April and May. They were small, but they're still increases, and they were big enough that even inflation adjustment couldn't wash them away. My commentary with the Monthly Printing Shipments report delves into what's been happening to shipments and profits. The profits issue is the most important. I suspected something was up when I started to see the decrease in employment being in steeper decline than industry shipment revenues. It was finally a sign that print businesses were taking the decline seriously and readjusting to new demand levels. Some, of course, had no choice, and the market made the adjustment for them by making it too painful to keep their doors open. This was the first time that we have a consecutive month  increase in current dollar shipments since early 2008, and in inflation-adjusted shipments since late 2007. One of the problems is that 2009 was a really bad year, and our forecast models now have us repeating those shipment levels on an inflation-adjusted basis. So current dollars may show an increase but it will be quite hollow because the purchasing power won't really be there. We'll see how it all plays out, of course. What will be really interesting is what happens when the retail marketers start doing their holiday promotions starting in September. If they continue to make significant shifts to new media, 2010 will be lower than 2009. If they have extra budget dollars to spend, they may send some of those to print in some manner. But no one should assume that we will head back to 2008 levels, as pleasant and heartwarming as that might be. We're in the field right now with a survey of business conditions, and while I cannot release data yet, I must say that the biggest printers are still under great pressure. The small and mid-size printers are doing a lot better. The bottom line: 2009 was so bad that we shook the weakest companies out of the system, and that we have, at least for this moment, slightly healthier printers on an overall basis.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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