Printers have muted expectations heading into what is generally considered peak period of the print year.
The BPIF Printing Outlook quarterly survey found that the industry was more buoyant in the third quarter than had been expected, but that this may result in a quieter than normal final quarter. Even so 44% anticipate an increase in volumes in the run up to the end of the year with a further quarter believing that volumes will hold steady.
Against this is the 30% thinking that their work levels will drop, resulting a positive balance of +14, which while generally good, would be the worst final quarter for four years if the predictions hold true.
As is expected the greatest concern remains competitive pricing by rivals, noted by almost two-thirds of the survey cohort. Increasing paper prices, flagged up by merchants, are of concern to 47% and a lack of skilled labour is cited by 35%. This is now of greater concern that late payment by customers, but only marginally so. And the black cloud of Brexit dominates the horizon.
Just 1% of printers claim to be ‘very confident’ of a positive outcome, 17% ‘somewhat confident’. On the other hand 50% say they are ‘somewhat unconfident’ and 5% are ‘very unconfident’. The federation’s Brexit Barometer recording sentiment about the negotiations is at its most gloomy level, -41, since the referendum.
The findings indicate that printers are being buffeted by extreme swings in the level of business on a day to day and week by week level says BPIF research manager Kyle Jardine. “Understandably this makes it much more difficult to manage the business and affects confidence levels.”
A brighter spot was that those printers which export have reported positive growth for Q3, helped by the shift in the exchange rate.
Summing up BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold says: “Confidence levels in the printing industry for Q4 are clearly quite fragile, despite the fact trade did actually improve in Q3. The traditional Q4 boost may yet surface and alleviate some of the fears but there is no doubt that there is much to be concerned about. Brexit, cost increases, skill shortages and fluctuating demand clearly make for a difficult climate.”