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Printing Not Among the Industries Worst Affected by the Recession

March 2009
PARAMUS, NJ—March 5, 2009—According to the NAPL Printing Economic Research Center (PERC), while the printing industry has been hit hard by the economic downturn, it is by no means alone. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, & Orders report, printing was one of ten major manufacturing groups in which shipments fell in 2008. However, printing’s 3.9% decline for the year was far from being the worst: Seven other industries recorded steeper declines, with textile products (-12.3%) and transportation equipment (-10.3%) topping the list. Total manufacturing shipments were up 2.0% for the year.
The steepening of the recession is certainly taking its toll on most manufacturers. In December 2008, total manufacturing shipments were down 12.0% from their year-ago level. Only two of the 21 major industry groups in the Census Bureau report showed December 2008 shipments above December 2007, with beverage and tobacco products rising 5.4% and food products up 0.4%. Printing industry shipments were down 5.9% December over December, significant but again far from the steepest decline among manufacturers.
Obviously, manufacturing isn’t the only area feeling the brunt of the recession. National income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)—the same folks who give us the GDP results—show that several sectors other than manufacturing were already experiencing strains even before the steep fourth quarter decline. Among the larger sectors recording sharp third-quarter to third-quarter declines in 2008 were construction (-7.0%), transportation and warehousing (-6.7%), finance, insurance, and real estate (-5.5%), and retail trade (-3.7%). Fourth quarter data aren’t available until the end of February, nonetheless, it’s clear that conditions for these and most other sectors worsened during the final three months of the year.
Lower prices have certainly contributed to the decline in manufacturing shipments and other economic activities. This is evident most in petroleum and coal shipments, which recorded the steepest decline—47.7%— between December 2007 and December 2008. But sour business conditions and disappearing demand get the lion’s share of the blame. This is certainly true for printing: Nearly 76.0% of the NAPL Printing Business Panel report business conditions slowed in January 2009 and 27.0% report conditions slowed “a lot.”
Of course, results vary dramatically from company to company. According to NAPL’s economists, recessions redistribute market share and coming out on the right side of redistribution requires becoming more productive, more competitive, and more valuable to clients. It also requires finding opportunities in the structural changes that continue to redefine the commercial printing industry. Finding opportunity in change—both structural change and cyclical change—is a defining characteristic of NAPL Leaders, companies that have grown nearly nine times faster than the industry over the last nine years.

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