Markets are looking better
It must be a sign of the early Spring we are experiencing here in the Northeast: flowers are popping up way ahead of schedule, and my telephone is ringing with requests for an update on the January forecast for the industrial laser market.
I have just finished preparing a report I will deliver at the AKL ’10 Technology Business Day in Aachen next month (http://www.optoiq.com/index/photonics-technologies-applications/lfw-display/lfw-article-display/371996/articles/laser-focus-world/industry-news-2/2009/12/eli-innovation-award-2010-deadline-imminent.html) so I have been reviewing my numbers and find they are pretty much as expected (http://www.optoiq.com/index/lasers-for-manufacturing/display/ils-article-display/6731610609/articles/industrial-laser-solutions/volume-250/issue-10/features/the-worst_is_over.html). I was on target with growth in the energy, aerospace, semiconductor, microelectronics, and medical devices sectors. And, so far I've been correct on the timing stretch for the fabricated metal products market (second half) and automotive prospects (next year). So my first quarter grade rates an A.
I am concerned about disturbing news for Germany, as reported by Laura Stevens in the Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/c7DaDj) about German corporate failures. In addition, I have been receiving reports from other sources that all is not well with the Mittelstand (small and medium companies). These companies are the backbone of Germany’s export economy and also happen to be big-time users of industrial lasers, thanks to government subsidies to promote laser technology in the 1990s.
Germany is the engine that pumps the European economy, and its industrial laser products dominate certain markets. It’s a little early to speculate on the impact of an anticipated record number of bankruptcies, but the experts are projecting a sharp decline in the country's GNP. Will this disrupt my forecasts? Yes and no. I had planned on a slow recovery in Germany with probable help from expanding markets for its products in some of the other EU countries. But the depth of the problem with the Mittelstand may act to stultify my forecast to a greater degree.
On the other hand, China keeps increasing the demand for imported industrial lasers and, surprisingly, the aforementioned market sectors in the U.S. are stirring some unexpected growth with domestic suppliers. These may act to offset some of the German decline, and it still looks as though the 5% growth target is achievable.
In June I will be presenting a world view of the markets in a plenary session in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser to be given at the Stuttgart Laser Days. Perhaps I will have a better perspective at that time.