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For months now, economists have been saying that the U.S. economy is improving. The recession that began in March 2001 officially ended in November of the same year. By September 2003, the International Monetary Fund was predicting overall U.S. economic growth of 2.6% this year and 3.9% in 2004, making the U.S. the fastest-growing economy among what's known as the "G7" industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S.).
So where is the U.S. ceramic industry in all of this? No one is quite ready to say we're on the rebound. Sectors such as tile, sanitaryware, flat glass and brick, which service the residential construction markets, have experienced strong sales growth over the past year, but commercial construction remains slow. Consumer sentiment has remained relatively low, resulting in weak retail sales of dinnerware and other tableware products, while a continued hiatus on business spending is making it difficult for manufacturers in the electronics sector to feel optimistic. And virtually every segment of the ceramic industry is experiencing increasing pressure to lower the cost of their products through offshore manufacturing or other means.
But despite these challenges, there are some rays of hope. Companies are now in much better shape financially than they were at the peak of the economic boom several years ago. Inventories are tight, debt is low, and new products with high demand potential are beginning to enter the market. The forecasts are relatively strong for many market segments over the next several years, and new applications could create some additional growth opportunities in some areas.
This special issue of Ceramic Industry is designed to take you inside the business of ceramic manufacturing. From advanced ceramics and whitewares to refractories, glass and brick, you can find out how the global markets for each sector performed in 2002 and early 2003-and what's expected in the near future.
A "Giant" ImprovementFor the past five years, Ceramic Industry has published our annual listing of Giants-manufacturing companies in the advanced ceramics, whitewares, refractories, glass and brick industries whose revenues for the previous year were greater than $1 million-in the same issue as our market reports. The goal of these lists was to provide an overview of the major players in these industry segments, how their businesses had fared in the previous year, and their outlooks for the future. However, we never had enough room to include all of the information we had gathered.
This year, rather than condensing the information, we've put all of the listings on our website in downloadable PDF files. (See http://www.ceramicindustry.com/FILES/HTML/CI_2003_CI_Giants/0,1067,,00.html.) These files will enable you to see all of the available information on all of the Giants companies at a glance, so you can get a more complete picture of how individual markets-and individual companies-are faring in today's economy. Visit our website today to view the 2003 Giants listings-and check back regularly for updates. If you would like to have the 2003 Giants listings faxed to you, please contact me at (248) 366-2503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.