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Fragile Europe
By David Eldridge
Posted 18 May 2015
NPE 2015 was a blockbuster, says Plastics News, which reported every day from North America’s major plastics fair in March. Visitor numbers, at 65,810, were 19% higher than NPE 2012. “It was a good old-style NPE,” Ulrich Reifenhäuser says in an interview with us this month (page 7), describing the uplift in orders that Reifenhäuser Group got from meetings with US extrusion customers during NPE.
The experience of visitors and exhibitors at NPE 2015 confirms the resurgence of the North American plastics industry. But what about Europe? Plast 2015 takes place in Italy this month and companies taking part no doubt hope there will be a similar return of confidence in the European plastics industry. The Italian government is forecasting tentative 0.7% growth in GDP this year, so there are grounds for believing Italy’s economy is finally starting to recover after its longest post-war recession (page 8).
Research group Markit Economics said its Purchasing Managers Index for Euro-area manufacturing rose from 51 in February to 52.2 in March, helped by growth in Spain and Italy and a stronger performance in Germany. The manufacturing PMI for Italy was 53.3 in March, up from 51.9 in February, and its highest level for 11 months. Manufacturing employment in Italy is rising at its fastest rate for four years, indicating an improvement in business confidence, said Markit.
However, these good signs need to be read in the context of a situation in Europe that is still characterised by austerity in many countries, difficulties caused by the weak euro and concerns over political and geopolitical uncertainty. Economic recoveries may be fragile this year, and European plastics processors may still wonder if the time is right for greater investment. 
In the plastics sector, the biggest threat to growth in 2015 could well be the difficult situation in the European polymer market, where material shortages and dramatic price rises have developed in March and April (page 6). If the supply issues are not resolved quickly, plastics processors won’t be worrying about the economy, they will be worrying about their existence.

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