Friday, July 13, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser: Unearthing a gem from ILS' readership data

A good editor looks for trends in the markets they report on. Searching for some clues as to shifts in the industrial laser markets, I have been reviewing the geographic breakdown of Industrial Laser Solutions' international readers, which comprise almost half the total readership. And I found a gem: among the African readers of ILS (we have subscribers in 32 of the continent's 52 countries), 31% are located in Nigeria, making this nation the heaviest reader of ILS. I would have thought this distinction belonged to South Africa which has an acknowledged manufacturing economy, but it is home to only 18% of ILS' African readership -- and it isn't even second, with that honor going to Egypt at 21%.

So I looked back at data from five years ago, and found the African splits were in the same order, but back then Africa only accounted for 0.7% of ILS's readers versus today's 2.7%. Is there something going on in the industrial laser community in that continent that caused a greater than 300% increase in those interested in industrial lasers?

Nigeria is one-third larger than Texas and it is the most populous country in Africa. Industrially it generates revenues from crude oil, coal, tin, palm oil, cotton, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, ceramics, steel, and small commercial ship construction and repair. Petroleum and petroleum products, cocoa, and rubber are its major exports.

Among our Nigerian readers, 65% identify themselves as CEOs, directors, engineering and production managers, and engineers in companies that seem to be heavily slanted to the petroleum industry and its service companies. That sector is a potential choice market for laser applications such as welding, laser additive manufacturing, and drilling. Without Googling all the readers' companies (which might be fun but time-consuming), it's hard to find an obvious reason why ILS and industrial laser technology seem to be of such interest in Africa's largest nation.

Last year in a My View column on the manufacturing economy, I made a prediction about Africa's place as a factor in the industrial market and when it could happen. It was written as tongue-in-cheek and meant to be a think piece, yet it drew a surprising amount of supportive comments. Others, it seems, are also of the opinion that Africa will be a "hot industrial laser market." Maybe my 25-year horizon was a bit off, as evidenced by this publication's readership growth.

Update 7/17/2012: And apparently I'm not the only one who is turning my attention to Africa as a high-growth region -- the latest issue of Fortune has hit my desk with a special advertising section, "Africa's Moment" [PDF download here], discussing Africa's emergence "as a strong global player" for private sector and economic development activities.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I hate mid-week holidays

I am just as patriotic as the next guy, I guess, respectfully honoring Independence Day on the 4th of July -- but not when it occurs in the middle of the week. My complaint here is that I experience two "Mondays" in one week, and that's not a good thing. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is working and my international e-mails keep streaming in, waiting for answers while I lounge in the hammock.

To top off this year's July event, the business news is not good. While trying to fathom what impact a reported slowdown in Latin America, Brazil and Argentina will have on industrial laser exports, I was hit by a new Wall Street Journal headline: "Factory Slump Reaches US." In this case, the former feeds the latter. Not a pleasant way to celebrate the 4th.

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) has revised its Latin America forecast for overall manufacturing output in 2012 down to 3.1% from 4.4%. According to MAPI, manufacturing activity in Brazil stopped a year ago and has been contracting for the past six months. Brazil has been identified as a major market for industrial laser products -- as recently as last month, at a VDMA briefing in Stuttgart, Brazil was identified as prime territory for industrial laser expansion.

In fairness, the MAPI report was very positive on Mexico, which, led by automotive and machinery, is proving resilient to the downward trend in Latin America.

The effects of global economic slowdown have finally filtered down to the US manufacturing sector, where the Institute for Supply Management says exports fell and new orders dropped for the first time since July 2009. Many experts had anticipated this, thinking it was an inevitable action as Europe, a major trading partner, can't seem to get its act together and the stop-gap action by China's government to get that countries economy moving again seems to have had little effect.

As I rock in my hammock, a thought occurs to me. The USA fought for its independence on this day we celebrate -- but some 230 years later our independence is questionable, as a global economy and its effects make us interdependent on the actions of others.