Looking back in hindsight, there were warning signs about the health of the U.S. economy, but very few people could have predicted the virtual collapse of the financial leaders and the impact that would have on the global economy. With consumer confidence down and the economic downturn that now threatens to engulf the U.S. automotive industry, any guess as to the future is just that: a guess.
For ink manufacturers, 2008 will not go down as a good one. Generally speaking, higher raw material prices and supply issues dominated the first three quarters of the year. Although crude oil prices tumbled as dramatically as they skyrocketed, falling below $60 per barrel after reaching a high of more than $140 per barrel, ink manufacturers are still not seeing relief, as they work to maintain their supply lines against larger industries. For ink manufacturers, the higher prices has led to the need to pass along some of the higher prices to their customers, who find themselves in difficult straits as the printing industry is mired in similarly difficult times.
In spite of all this, the industry leaders who spoke with me for our annual The Year in Review article, which starts on page 22, were cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year. Some of this hope is due to the renewed interest in environmentally friendly products, which should see growth in the coming years. There are also relatively new technologies on the horizon – printed electronics and LED, to name two – as well as growth in energy-curable markets and inkjet.
For ink manufacturers, the coming years will be challenging, to say the least. As I mentioned above, it is exceedingly difficult to know with any certainty what may happen in 2009, although the economy may put ink companies large and small alike at further risk. Still, the companies that have prepared themselves by intelligently managing their costs, by working closely with customers to explain the absolute necessity of passing along higher costs, and are stressing the importance of R&D and coming up with the innovative products the market seeks will be the ones that are most likely to survive and succeed in 2009 and beyond.