Optimism comes in many forms, and I saw a lot of it since the last time I filled this space.
In August, at the Steel Summit, the glass-half-full types dramatically outnumbered the pessimists. And not just from the usual suspects.
Sure, the service center panel, featuring Kloeckner’s John Ganem, Mill Steel’s Pam Heglund and Ryerson’s Eddie Lehner, offered a sunny outlook for both the short- and long-term in the distribution business. Likewise, steel mill executives such as Steel Dynamics’ Mark Millett and Cleveland-Cliffs’ Lourenco Goncalves were bullish about the health and dynamism of domestic steel production.
This, of course, is not a surprise. It’s smart business.
Unlike the fate of your favorite football team, a positive outlook from all of us can have a correspondingly positive influence on the economy. Likewise, a dark perspective can harm it. We measure consumer and business confidence for a reason, after all.
But the good tidings came from other, less likely sources. Economist Alan Beaulieu, president and CEO of ITR Economics, has never been one to gild the lily. But his prognosis, at least in the short term, was positively giddy for him. “There’s no recession in the B2B world. Businesses have so much money and they’re paying their bills. Nothing bad ever happens when businesses have money,” he noted.
In fact, the only way we’re looking at a recession, he said, “is if the Federal Reserve Board creates one.”
As outlined in our coverage of the event, Steel Research Associates’ President Paul Lowrey was confident the steel mill oversupply situation forecast in some quarters will not materialize, so the fears of any metal glut sinking the price is also not in the cards. That’s always welcome news to the supply chain.
Sure, there were some killjoys in Atlanta, but by and large the mood was positive, and the R word was most often used in the negative, not a prediction of immediate things to come (though Beaulieu continues to have some strong thoughts on a reckoning down the road).
A few weeks later, I saw optimism play out in an entirely different way. In September, the International Manufacturing Trade Show returned to Chicago. The every-other-year event had a more Olympian schedule this time around, as the 2020 show was one of many victims of the COVID pandemic. The delayed return was obviously welcomed by the crowd, which jammed McCormick Place for the week-long showcase.
Perhaps the hiatus unleashed some pent-up trade show attendance demand from Midwestern fabricators and machine shop operators. Or, even more unlikely, the halls of McCormick Place were merely filled with the industrial world’s version of window shoppers, there to look but with no intent to purchase.
But if attendance is any kind of indication of the state of the metal industry, then the IMTS crowd gave us another big show of confidence.