In the black

By Lauren Duensing

January 2014 - In my family, we cook, eat and watch football on Thanksgiving. It’s a day where no one counts calories and we just enjoy the time together—in addition to the potato gratin and cornbread dressing. This camaraderie around the table with good food and good company is one of the main reasons why the annual November feast is my favorite holiday. So, the new trend where Thanksgiving takes a back seat to the Christmas shopping binge always makes me just a little bit sad.

This year, many stores opened the afternoon or evening of Nov. 28 to jump-start Black Friday shopping. The strategy met with some backlash but it seemed to work. Spending on Black Friday totaled $9.7 billion and was down 13.2 percent from last year. However, when the numbers from Thursday were added in, the bottom line went up 2.3 percent.

In addition, some people don’t leave the house, opting instead to shop online. Walmart’s website alone received record traffic of 400 million page views on Thanksgiving Day. Whether online or in person at the store, there are a lot of people who choose to shop rather than kick back on the couch in their sweatpants with another glass of wine after the dishes are washed and the pie eaten. 

A decision to open brick-and-mortar stores on a holiday is one strategy to increase profits, and companies weigh the pros and cons before taking the plunge. Metals companies face a similar conundrum—deciding what’s best for the bottom line, the company and its employees is a difficult task.

In spite of that, it’s likely that many business decisions made in 2013 will show dividends in 2014 because of expected growth. Investment bank InterOcean Advisors recently surveyed executives from major players in the manufacturing sector, including aerospace and defense, automotive, building products, capital equipment, flow control, metals, as well as plastics and packaging companies. The numbers showed roughly 73 percent of manufacturers surveyed believe revenues will improve in the next 12 months, with nearly 30 percent believing entering new markets or producing new products has been the biggest growth driver for their company in the last 12 months. 

Modern Metals also recently conducted its 12th Annual Consuming Industries Survey, and respondents seemed to be thinking along these same lines. Fifty-seven percent of total survey respondents, which included service centers, fabricators and OEMs/end users, expect orders to increase in 2014. That number is up 11 percent from last year’s numbers. Some respondents even commented that they were seeing better business levels and improved market trends. Next year likely will post the sluggish numbers, indicative of a slow climb upward; it’s clear there are too many concerns to say this is the light at the end of the tunnel. But the glass-half-full perspective is that companies are making the best of current conditions and will continue to do so going forward. MM

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