Chemical & Engineering News

June 23, 1997

Copyright © 1997 by the American Chemical Society

MARKETS: Good news, bad news

Growth in the U.S. economy was slightly higher last year than the year before. According to data from the Department of Commerce, constant-dollar gross domestic product rose 2.5% in 1996 to $6.91 trillion, compared with just 2.1% growth in 1995. However, personal consumption expenditures increased 2.4% last year to $4.69 trillion. In 1995, this number was up 2.5% from the previous year.

In major markets for chemicals, it was a case of good news and bad news. On the good news side, many important markets improved - some significantly. For instance, total housing starts were up 9.6% last year to 1.49 million units, and beginning construction on single-family homes rose 7.4% to 1.16 million starts.

However, perhaps because of the lag between starts and completions and the fact that furnishings and other products go into more than new housing, there was a big discrepancy in production of products used within the home. Production of furniture and fixtures increased only 0.2% last year, but output of household appliances rose 5.4%.

The farm economy, another major outlet for chemicals, showed good improvement last year, with acres harvested up 5.4% to 236.4 million.

Output growth was also registered by plastic products, up 1.7%; aluminum, up 5.7%; and basic steel and mill products, up 1.2%.

The U.S. automotive industry represented the downside, however, with output of automobiles falling 3.2% - the second straight year of decline - and production of trucks, buses, and trailers declining almost 1%. However, that 1% drop is not as bad as the more than 10% decline registered in 1995.

The decline in automotive production held back output of tires, which inched down less than 1% last year.

Other major markets with declines in production include apparel, down 4.9%; textile mill products, down 4.9%; and paper and products, off 1.7%.