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Commercial Printing Outlook : Don't Rely on the Economy

December 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor

Paparozzi notes that while the economy continues to heal, he continues to remind observers of NAPL's prediction of a protracted recovery period. The Great Recession ended in June 2009 but, while the contraction has stopped, all is not quite well.

"As NAPL has long emphasized, this time recovery would be painfully slow and maddeningly inconsistent, because there is no easy way to purge the excesses—the debt, the housing bubble, the toxic financial instruments that spread the crisis worldwide—which caused the Great Recession," he says.

"Furthermore, the excesses are resistant to conventional remedies. For example, holding interest rates at record lows isn't as effective when qualified borrowers can't secure (or refinance) credit because the value of their homes has declined dramatically. And lowering taxes isn't as effective when households and businesses prefer to delay major purchases and investments until the future is a little more certain."

The economy seems intent on lowering expectations and yet still disappoints observers with its inability to hit even the least optimistic marks. Dr. Ronnie Davis, senior vice president and chief economist at Printing Industries of America (PIA) in Sewickley, PA, points out that the economy was taking on the appearance of recovery mode in 2011, but ended up spinning wheels this year. He was less optimistic of growth hitting 2.0 percent.

As for the industry, Davis felt printing would get a nice bounce from the rash of election-related printing. But even in a presidential election year, enthusiasm is somewhat tempered. Like Paparozzi, Davis is projecting less than 1.0 percent growth for printing.

As for 2013, Davis sees several variables at work. "It will be interesting to see what happens with postal reform, Saturday delivery and patching up some of these issues on the pension side," he says. "Among the bigger issues—the gorilla in the room—is the global economy itself...what's going on with China and Europe. Even though, in an ideal world, we would get our own fiscal house in order and address some of our domestic issues, we're still looking at the other 75 percent of the global economy that's not us. The big question is whether the global economy can stabilize and start to move forward."

Rather than waiting for recovery, Paparozzi is encouraging printers to take the bull by the horns. He notes many printers aren't waiting for the economy or Washington to provide help. Instead, they're satisfying a broader range of client needs, getting involved in customers' projects earlier and staying involved longer.

Referencing a recent NAPL State of the Industry survey, Paparozzi points out that three printing services—digital color, variable data digital color and wide-format color—were cited by respondents as being those expected to grow the fastest during the next two to three years. However, while they were the most popular services, Paparozzi is most encouraged by the wealth of diversity in the services listed by survey responders: Web-to-print, signage, fulfillment, 1:1/cross-media marketing, database management, Web page creation/hosting and video for the Web.

"Bottom line: Many CEOs and owners are finding plenty of opportunity—just not in the same old places or by doing the same old things," he says.

Davis is forecasting economic growth on the order of 2.0 percent for the nation, with the industry breaking about even. He doesn't envision another recession visiting the economy, but notes that long-discussed but oft-ignored hot spots such as the expiring tax cuts and righting the social security and Medicare ships need to be addressed, lest fate be tempted.

"Print fares better in a mature economic recovery, so if we can have a sustained recovery of 3-plus percent, we'll see print pick back up," he says. "There are issues with print as an information media, challenged by things like e-books and magazines like Newsweek doing away with its print edition. But printing as a marketing media, and printing logistics with packaging, labels and wrappers—they are fairly strong. They represent 70 percent of printing.

"There's some undue pessimism about printing and its viability in the future. It's still a $160 billion a year industry. We do expect to see some growth in those total dollars during the next few years."PI


 

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