Plastics Machinery Shipments: Typical Slower First Quarter but Poised for Growth

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) announced today shipments of primary plastics machinery (injection molding and extrusion) in North America came in lower in First Quarter 2021 than Fourth Quarter 2020. Shipments decreased following three consecutive quarters of growth, according to statistics compiled and reported by PLASTIC’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES).

The preliminary estimate of shipment value from reporting companies totaled $334.9 million in First Quarter 2021, an 11.1% decrease from the previous quarter. However, compared to First Quarter 2020, plastics machinery shipments increased by a solid 31.9%. This was the third consecutive quarterly increase in plastics machinery shipments year-over-year.

“Plastics machinery shipments usually start slow every first quarter, so it was not surprising to see the data came in lower. This is in sync with overall economic activity that is usually slow, starting every first quarter. Judging from a year-over-year comparison, plastics machinery shipments were actually off to a good start. With the economy staying in a recovery cycle, plastics machinery shipments can be expected to increase this year. However, supply chain issues in plastics end-markets could slow growth in plastics equipment demand, so we’ll be watching market dynamics very closely in the coming months,” said Perc Pineda, Ph.D., Chief Economist of PLASTICS.

Injection Molding vs Extruders

Although the value of shipments of injection molding equipment decreased by 11.1% in First Quarter 2021, it was 39.8% above First Quarter 2020. The value of shipments of single-screw extruders fell 38.3% from Fourth Quarter 2020 and was 28.9% lower than First Quarter 2020. Shipments of twin-screw extruders, however, soared by 42.3% in First Quarter 2021 and rose by 18.3% over the same period in 2020.

Market Sentiment

PLASTIC’s CES also conducts a quarterly survey of plastics machinery suppliers that asks about present market conditions and expectations for the future. In general, outlook among plastics machinery suppliers is very optimistic.

“The equipment sector of the plastics industry came out of 2020 strong. The much-improved trade outlook will be a positive for plastics equipment suppliers on top of what can be expected as another good year for plastics equipment demand,” added Pineda.

In the coming quarter, 89.5% of respondents expect conditions to improve or hold steady compared to a year ago, lower than the 96.0% that felt similarly in the previous quarter. As for the next 12 months, 93.0% of those surveyed expect market conditions to be steady-to-better. This is higher than the 89.8% in the Fourth Quarter 2020 survey.

Plastics machinery total exports in First Quarter 2021 increased by 9.4% to $395.0 million over Fourth Quarter 2020. Imports fell by 3.5% to $845.0 million, resulting in a $450.0 million trade deficit, which was 12.6% lower than in Fourth Quarter 2020.  The volume of merchandise trade is expected to increase this year as global economic conditions improve.

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