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Sentiment at the annual meeting of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors at the end of January was modestly optimistic. Economist Mark Zandi's presentation there, which paralleled his article in this issue (p. 1), touched on the dark side of the massive monetary and federal policy stimulus to the economy over the past few years. The potential for payback is sitting out there, and, like a few years ago at the end of the long run of boom times, easy to ignore when you want to see only the good news.
Regardless of whether you view the glass half empty or half full, Zandi's perspective does a nice job of presenting the impacts of the current structural shifts to the economy. That's reinforced by the historic data on U.S. machine tool consumption on p. 8 of this issue. U.S. machine tool consumption in 1997 was more than $5.5 billion; it was just under $2 billion in 2003. That's a 64% drop in six years. That's a lot less metal cutting in this country.
The numbers are starting to come back in manufacturing; this year will undoubtedly strengthen. In day to day conversations, the crux is about working harder to get less. But in the next breath most are thankful to be inching forward and talk about how more opportunities are opening up every month. And there are some home runs being hit. A lot of those are new opportunities dug out from hard work and new ideas. That's a better conversation than last year.