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Dr. Joe Webb

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

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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Recent Commentary & Analysis from Dr. Joe Webb

Displaying 1-24 of 832 articles

Changes in Commercial Printing Employment by State

Published October 8, 2015

Our developing relationship with the economic statistics provider ExpliStats allows the WhatTheyThink Economics and Research Center to have access to many new data series that provide perspective about states and regions, not just national data. The chart shows the changes in the average number of employees per establishment in the US and large printing states. The average size of printing businesses in an area offers clues to the kinds of printing produced there and the history of the industry in that area. Illinois, where there were major corporate headquarters and is a central state with good transportation throughout the country, tended to have more large shops than typical. Many of the prime printed products produced in the area have declined, and unionized printers have had great competition from printers in other geographies. The state has had well-documented economic problems, and average employment has declined. Florida has many retirees and tourism businesses, which have tended to use local printers for their needs. The Texas printing industry benefits from a stronger local economy, and some establishments have been growing. Despite California's problems, its strong high tech and entertainment industries have kept this printing establishment characteristic stable.


Premium Content Profit Leaders Take It All, Again

Published October 5, 2015

The PIA Financial Ratios have been published for decades, and may be the most recognized of the association's publications. There are, of course, problems with all kinds of research gathering efforts, but the positives of the Ratios reports outweigh the negatives from a methodological standpoint.


Tax Foundation Report on the Postal Service and Other Resources

Published October 2, 2015


Debt as a Percentage of GDP

Published October 2, 2015

Many people confuse debt and deficit when they see it as part of the Federal government's annual budget. Deficit is the annual shortfall between a government's spending and its revenues. Debt is the accumulation of all of the deficits and surpluses of the prior years in that government's history. The chart below shows the accumulated deficits as a percentage of that year's Gross Domestic Product. When debt is at 100% that means that it is the same size as the economy, in the range of $18 trillion. On a GAAP basis (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) that takes into account future obligations, the Federal debt is approximately 5x annual GDP. Among the concerns about the debt is the current interest rate environment. With debt at $18 trillion, a +1% change in the interest rate paid by the government will increase Federal spending by $180 billion. The markets for government obligations are influenced by the actions of the Federal Reserve; a rate increase may decrease the value of obligations held by investors, pension funds, and the instruments purchased by the Fed in its Quantitative Easing initiatives. The Fed is designed to be an apolitical and independent organization, but the political pressures on the Fed as their actions affect government spending are likely to be significant once the Fed gets on a course of meaningful rate increases. Those rate increases may play a role in increasing debt as a percentage of GDP.


Updated Printing Industry Capacity Utilization Data – Not What Everyone Thinks It Is

Published October 1, 2015

Even in the industry's most profitable and growing years, the mantra “there's too much capacity in the industry” was always heard. It's been a misplaced and inaccurate portrayal of the business, yet it persists.


Premium Content The State of the Economy and Print

Published September 28, 2015

Dr. Joe wonders why there isn't a little spring to the industry's step with 14 months of better sales levels. It could just be that printers a feeling a sense of relief as they wonder what's next. And then there's the economy. Second quarter GDP look great, but was really less filling. He scratches the economic surface and finds some skepticism inside. If he didn't, he wouldn't be Dr. Joe.


Canada's Commercial Printing Shipments

Published September 17, 2015

Canada's commercial printing industry had a small rebound more than three years ago, before that of the US, and has been on a somewhat steady course since. In US dollars, however, Canada's gains market have been erased recently with the stronger dollar. Canada's recent slip into what appears to be a mild recession will be interesting from a media perspective. When the economy grows, there is more money to experiment with media alternatives. When an economy contracts, there is more interest in the budget savings that digital alternatives might provide. In either case, there are dislocations of what is perceived to be the status quo. It will take a while for the effects of the decline in commodity prices that appear to have caused Canada's recession to ripple through to non-commodity media budgets. It is worth watching see what happens from here and how Canada's printers fare.


Premium Content Advertising Agency Revenues Up +40% Since Bottom of Recession

Published September 14, 2015

Dr. Joe summarizes what he would say at Graph Expo 15 breakfast. Content creation is proving to be a big money maker for the ad agency business. Publishers are still having monetization problems which makes that whole “content is king” still questionable. Maybe it's because the real king is the marketplace of millions of content consumers.


Profits Per Employee Increase

Published September 10, 2015

The nearly $15,000 profit per employee of 2000 may not be in the cards for the US commercial printing business any time soon, but it looks like this measure is headed to its second best performance since the end of the recession. Using the latest data for the second quarter of 2015, and adding the previous three quarters to create a full year, profits per employee seem to be headed to $7,700, a thousand dollars more than the level of 2014.


Improvement in Industry Shipments, Profits Improvement Elusive

Published September 9, 2015

The 4-quarter moving total of inflation-adjusted US commercial printing shipments have been increasing, but unfortunately profits have not. Q2-2015 four-quarter shipments are up +2.3%, but profits are unfortunately down for the last four quarters -10.8%.


Dr. Joe Recommends: CMO Survey, What's Happened with China's Currency, Canada's Economy Slips into Recession

Published September 4, 2015

Dr Joe Webb comments on potpourri of news items: CMO Survey, What's Happened with China's Currency, Canada's Economy Slips into Recession


Latest Printing Shipments Reflect Rebound

Published September 3, 2015

July's inflation-adjusted US commercial printing shipments continued to outshine prior year shipment levels. This was the best July since 2008 on a current dollar basis and since 2010 on an inflation-adjusted basis. On average, monthly industry shipments have been about $200 million higher than the year before. They are also tracking closer to GDP growth rates, a feat the industry has not done for almost two decades.


Recovery Indicators Mixed with Slight Downward Bias; Sluggish Economy Remains

Published September 2, 2015

Four of the six recovery indicators fell last month, but the non-manufacturing new orders indicator remained very strong. World markets had a rocky month, and the NASDAQ fell -7% since the last indicators.


US Commercial Printing Shipments Up for 14 Consecutive Months

Published September 2, 2015

US commercial printing shipments were nearly $7.04 billion in July, a $392 million increase (+4.9%) on a current dollar basis compared to 2014. This was the strongest July since 2008.


Reports that Captured Dr. Joe's Attention

Published August 27, 2015

Recent reports that caught Dr. Joe's Attention: GE's Employment Review System Has Left to Pursue Other Interests; Our Toolbox is Empty: Maybe Hitting it With a Rock Will Work; There's Nothing to See Here in Venezuela... Please Move On..; Quantitative Zero Results


Q2 GDP Revised Up, Bigger Rebound from Q1... But What's Ahead?

Published August 27, 2015

The first report of Q2-2015 real GDP was +2.3%, and now it's been raised to +3.7%, well ahead of forecaster expectations. On a longer-term year-to-year basis, the growth rate is +2.5%, still almost a full percentage point below post-WW2 average.

Longer term rate +2.5%. The effects of inventory increases is still a major factor in the growth, but there were other positives in the report implying that Q2 was broadly better than originally thought. There are concerns among professional forecasters that the inventory buildup will result in slower growth as those stockpiles are reduced. Considering that two thirds of the third quarter is almost complete, we know that international trade is being disrupted by currency and solvency issues in China and other countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta GDPNow estimates that third quarter GDP will be at +1.4%. Please also note a recent chart where we showed important key indicators that have yet to surpass their recession levels from Q4-2007.


UK's Royal Post Effectiveness of Mail Reports

Published August 27, 2015

There are many resources to use that support the contention that direct mail is a highly effective medium. Some of the research indicates that personal mail makes people feel more valuable. As odd as that may seem, that's been the approach of many mail proponents.


Premium Content Dr. Joe: News Corp CEO Whining or Leading, Global Economic Mess is Becoming a Quagmire

Published August 24, 2015

The News Corp CEO says that social media companies are responsible for the 'unnatural act' of redistributing content. The company that overpaid for MySpace, failed in social media, repeats the fears of copiers and VCRs from decades ago. We found out that Amazon is a great company and a horrible employer in a story perfect for cross media. Central banks play the devaluation game and say that they were manipulated into doing it. Sure, blame Kazakhstan. How can making something float cause it to sink? Dr. Joe explains it all.


Per Capita Commercial Printing Shipments Stabilize; Forecast Models Project Levels to Continue

Published August 20, 2015

The per capita value of US commercial printing shipments has stabilized at nearly $270, and the recent change in the direction of shipments in the last year or so has changed the forecasts. Forecast models place heavy weight on recent history, and that fact has changed the forecast for 2020 to remain at current levels. It was not long ago that the models forecast 2020 consumption at near zero, an unlikely outcome, but one worth pondering. Will shipments stay at these levels? That's unlikely, too, as media formats and loyalties are still changing.

The chart shows an incredible history of technology and social change. The 70s through the 80s show the increase in print consumption that came from a growing economy and the sharp decrease in production costs for color printing. The growth in the 70s was despite harsh economic times, and despite punitive interest rates in the early 80s: yes, the decreases in costs and increases in productivity were so significant they could overcome both. Then the 90s rode an explosion in desktop capabilities and something new called “the Internet.” From there, the print world found itself in an unfamiliar arena of broadband, online video, podcasts, smartphones, social media, tablets, content marketing, and other devices and formats. Publishers have grappled with the problems of monetizing their content (supposedly “king” but far from it) in this environment for two decades, and many commercial printers became collateral damage. Some print businesses adapted their offerings and communicators adapted their tactics, resulting in the newfound stability. If this history tells us anything, it's to be wary and flexible, and especially vigilant about communications technologies and social changes that enable or thwart media use.


Key Indicators that Have Not Improved Since the Recession and Recovery

Published August 14, 2015

There are numerous data series that explain that the economy has never recovered from the recession. These are not obscure data series, but mainstream ones. Gross Domestic Product should be the standard for determining the status of an economy (thick blue line). Movements in GDP should be confirmed by other measures. This week's chart uses the start of the recession, December 2007, as the base, which is 100.


Premium Content Dr Joe: Industry Sales Per Employee Near Historical Highs, Employment in Printing and Content Creation, The Overall Economy

Published August 10, 2015

Increasing printing shipments could give him a new name of “Dr. Boom” rather than his old doomish monicker. Employment is up in advertising and public relations, yet again. Dr. Joe swirls in some comments about the overall economy and explains his role in a new management program to be unveiled at Graph Expo.


US Commercial Printing Shipments +3.5% for First Half of 2015, Exceeding Real GDP Growth

Published August 6, 2015

US commercial printing shipments are up about +3.5% for January to June compared to the same period in 2014. The industry has been restructuring, as employment continues to decline. Usually employment and shipment levels move together in a tight range if not almost in lockstep. As noted in our analysis of the top printing states, the average number of employees per establishment has been rising there, a sign of consolidation. At the same time, the industry has been changing the range of products that it offers to reflect shorter runs, smaller sizes, and less frequency of traditional product, a new range of products base on digital printing, and activities that mesh well with digital media. These shipment levels are still about -2% compared to 2013, but bouncing higher from 2014 levels is an encouraging sign, especially when the overall economy has been weak. The inflation-adjusted growth rate for this period compared to the prior year exceeds real GDP by almost a full percentage point. That's the best news the printing business has generated in a long time.


Premium Content Q2 GDP +2.3%, Below Economist Expectations

Published July 30, 2015

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released the report of 2015's second quarter GDP. At +2.3%, it was below expectations of financial forecasters who were looking for +2.6%. This advance report of GDP was in line with the GDPNow estimate of the Atlanta Federal Reserve which was at +2.4%.


Inflation Multipliers Updated

Published July 30, 2015

Inflation is supposedly tame, but if you're making comparisons of current year financial data to prior years, you still need to adjust for the years when inflation was not. The chart was created from Consumer Price Index data for each of the years specified. When looking at your company history, multiply your data for each year by the multiplier specified. This will give you an approximation for the effects of inflation on your business, and make your historical analysis, especially in the process of budgeting, to be more realistic. Adjusting your data, even in periods of claimed low inflation, creates a sense of more urgent action. Inflation means that to stay at the same level you actually need more dollars. Staying the same is actually a cut.


Dr Joe Recommends that You Meet FRED

Published July 30, 2015

In the past I have recommended a site maintained by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank that provides easy access to economic data. The site has been expanded and the software has improved greatly.


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