Semper’s latest Industry Insight Survey a mixed bag

sempermay2016survey-inA rocky market, stagnating profits and declining capital investment rates, tempered by optimism in hiring and stronger recent sales, are some of the findings of Semper International’s latest report. The leading U.S.-based placement firm for skilled talent in the printing, pre-media and marketing industries, reported some positive economic trends coming into the second quarter of 2016, though a slow start and continued signs of economic instability temper that optimism. Trending positives were corporate profitability, recent sales and hiring – which all rose in Q2. Despite this, overall sales outlooks for the second quarter shifted below the .500 mark and capital investment rates dropped to less than 1/3 of the industry, reflecting more pessimism. Also, corporate profits held steady at 71% of the industry for the third quarter in a row – a slight decline from over 80% a year ago.

Since February of 2003, Semper International has provided a quarterly survey offering estimates of trends in the printing and graphics industries. Survey participants include a cross-section of large, mid-size and small commercial printers, advertising agencies and media companies – both clients and prospects of Semper. Participants provide data on revenue and hiring as well as estimated outlooks on future trends. Data is requested from a random sample and is not screened. To preserve confidentiality, individual company information is not part of the tabulations.

Semper CEO David Regan.
Semper CEO David Regan.

“At the turn of the year, we sat at the crux of an economic transition with slow sales and slightly depressed profits. This quarter’s data saw these same trends prove out until March, where economic life finally showed signs of a warming,” said Semper CEO and Report author David Regan. “Despite this good news, companies predicted sales outlooks in the next quarter will be slower than usual. This reflects more pessimism in the industry than the economic data indicates – understandable given the grueling nature of the past economic cycles and the recent GDP data. There is still some reason for optimism. Our data also finds that companies have been busier in the last two weeks and overall profitability had stabilized, albeit at a lower level than the highs of 2015.”

Additional observations from the Semper Insight Report include:

  • Companies reporting that their sales increased over the past two weeks rose slightly to 30% of all respondents, and just over 50% of companies indicated that sales held steady in the past two weeks.
  • Industry margins also rose, with firms netting margins of 20% or more doubling – to sit at 10% of all companies taking the survey.
  • Hiring rose 20% in the past quarter, with 36% of respondents indicating that they will invest in new talent soon.
  • However, staff productivity continues to be the primary concern among managers for the second straight quarter, indicating managers are concerned over economic outlooks.
  • At the same time, diversification rates have dropped for the 12th month in a row – this time with just over 44% reporting they will expand into new industry segments this quarter.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.