First-quarter lighting data appears dim

SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND - “Troubling” is how the National Lighting Bureau (NLB) describes first-quarter-2008 NEMA Lighting Systems Index data.

The Index, established in 1998, is a composite measure of lamps, luminaires, ballasts, emergency lighting, exit signs, and other lighting products shipped nationally and internationally from the United States by the 430 companies that comprise the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

NEMA members manufacture a wide range of products used in the generation, transmission, distribution, and control of electricity, as well as innumerable end-use products in addition to those used in lighting.

The value of NEMA members’ annual shipments totals $100 billion.

According to NLB Communications Director John P. Bachner, “The latest Index results exceeded fourth-quarter-2007 results by 1.1%, due principally to increased emergency lighting equipment and miniature lamp shipments. Overall, however, the U.S. lighting market remained depressed for the second quarter in a row. The index was down more than five percent from its year-ago level.”

The near-term future does not seem to promise a rebound, Bachner commented. Particularly troubling is the slowdown in nonresidential construction, which, for the past year, has buoyed overall construction activity despite severe erosion in the residential sector.

According to NEMA Economic Analysis Director Brian Lego, “Data from the first quarter of 2008 show overall spending on commercial, industrial and other related nonresidential buildings sank by its largest annualized rate in nearly three years.”

Even more trouble could lie ahead, Lego said. He noted that the American Institute of Architects’ billings index, a forward-looking indicator, slid to an all-time low, “with readings for firms specializing in commercial and industrial work especially weak.

Overall, tighter lending standards, slower profit growth, rising energy costs, and a multitude of other financial and economic concerns pose significant headwinds to nonresidential construction activity.”

As for residential construction, the general consensus seems to be that conditions are unlikely to stabilize before late 2008. And even then, Lego commented, “any improvements will be slow and modest at best… as high inventory levels keep a lid on prices and construction activity.”



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