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Demand Contraction to Continue.

Ongoing interviews and market analyses during the first quarter of 2000 confirm the previously forecast slowdown for this year and the overall contraction of casting sales despite continued strength in some major markets.

U.S. motor vehicle production during the first quarter continued strong with an 8.5% increase in passenger car and light truck production over the first quarter of '99, leading to a 2-month buildup of inventory. Despite an expected drop in demand for the last half of the year, light vehicle production is expected to hit 12 million units again during '00, with an expected decline of only 580,000 vehicles compared to the '99 peak year.

First-quarter housing starts were down 7% vs. '99. The housing sector is expected to decline at a 5% rate for the year as interest rates continue to rise.

The freight car order backlog is way down compared to this time last year, thus supporting the expected 28% decline in railcar production and the large reduction in steel casting shipments.

Gray Iron

Due to better-than-forecasted outlooks for markets that include car and light trucks, engines, municipal, sanitary, soil pipe, construction machinery, refrigeration/AC and power transmission, the original forecast for gray iron has been increased slightly, reducing the expected loss in shipments to 6.5% compared to '99.

Shipments are expected to be about 5.7 million tons this year.

Motor Vehicles--First-quarter passenger car production was up 2.4% over the first quarter of '99. Light truck production rose 8% in the same period while medium-to-heavy truck and trailer shipments fell 2%. Based on the heavy inventory and potential interest rate increases, a 4.5% decline in light vehicle production in the U.S. and a 15% drop in medium-to-heavy trucks and trailer production still is expected.

The conversion of gray iron heads and blocks to aluminum has begun to accelerate, and will reach its peak in '02, when light truck engines begin to utilize aluminum in both parts. Gray iron shipments reached 1.8 million tons in light vehicles in 1999 and are expected to decline to 1.6 million in '00 and 1.4 million in '01, based on a decline in the weight of gray iron per light vehicle to 270 lb.

Municipal Castings--Though slight, the expected decline in imports from India now shows an expected loss of only 2% in gray iron casting demand. A continued drop to 480,000 tons in '01 is forecast before increases begin to take place in '02-03, based on predicted record housing starts spurred by baby boomer investment.

Machine Tools & Metalworking Machinery--The machine tool business continues to be down, keeping casting shipments at low levels following a drop of 11% in '99. A 4% drop is forecast for '00 to 91,000 tons.

Internal Combustion Engines--An expected drop in production of medium-to-heavy truck, farm equipment and construction machinery shipments in '00 is expected to result in a 10% drop in gray iron engine casting shipments in '00 to 500,000 tons.

Valves & Fittings--The expected drop in housing starts, coupled with increases in imports, is expected to decrease gray iron valve/fitting shipments to 296,000 tons in '00, a loss of more than 3%.

Ductile Iron

Despite improved forecast revisions for pressure pipe, car and light truck, valves/fittings, medium-to-heavy trucks, construction machinery and others, the forecast for total shipments in '00 was increased to nearly 4.3 million tons, down from last year's 4.4 million tons.

Pressure Pipe--Although looking better than previously expected, pipe production is expected to decline slightly to 1.87 million tons in '00, due to expected decline in housing starts.

Motor Vehicle--The continued record production of light trucks this year should keep the demand for high-production ductile iron castings at a high level and increase the original forecast to 1.123 million tons, despite some conversion to other metals and manufacturing processes. New aluminum engines and the general movement to lighter vehicles are expected to spur some conversions to aluminum suspension parts, forged steel crankshafts and stainless steel exhaust manifolds. Austempered ductile iron applications are expected to increase. The expected reduction of malleable iron applications should lead to some conversion to ductile iron beginning this year.

Farm Equipment--The 6% expected reduction in tractor shipments this year is expected to cause a decline in shipments to 125,000 tons in '00.

Construction Machinery--Despite a reduction in housing starts, construction activity is expected to be just 2% off from '99's good year. Exports of heavy off-road equipment and growth in the U.S. public sector continue to spur casting demand from major construction OEMs. The original forecast for '00 has been upgraded to 178,000 tons.

Special Industry Machinery--Production of special industry machinery is forecast to drop again slightly in '00 based on expected drops in shipments of printing and paper machinery in the U.S. Ductile iron casting shipments to this market are forecast at 98,000 tons in '00.


Based on a weak order pattern for railcars in '00, freight car backlogs are extremely low compared to recent years, confirming the expected decline of steel casting shipments. Total steel casting shipments are expected to fall further than earlier forecasts indicated to 1.3 million tons in '00, a reduction of almost 200,000 tons from last year.

Railroad--Orders for new freight cars plunged downward in late '99 to quantities of one-half those of a year earlier. Deliveries of cars in '99 were almost equal to the 75,000 cars delivered in '98, which was the strongest showing in 19 years. A 28% decline to 51,000 cars is forecast for '00. The decline is attributable to fewer expected loads of key commodities such as coal, grain and steel. Carbon and low-alloy steels for railroad applications are forecast to drop 22% to 600,000 tons in '00.

Construction, Mining, Oil Field--While construction activity is expected to decline with housing starts, the mining industry is forecast to rebound after 3 years of losses. Though oil prices have begun to decline, equipment manufacturing should continue strong. Steel casting shipments are forecast to drop only slightly in '00, as the decrease in construction should be offset by potential mining application orders in the last half of '00. Total shipments are expected to reach 344,000 tons, about 9000 tons above the original forecast.

Corrosion-Resistant Steels--Corrosion-resistant steel casting shipments peaked at 80,000 tons last year and are expected to decline only slightly in '00 to 78,000 tons. The major growth sectors are valves, pumps and applications in food product machinery. Growth of more than 3% per year also is forecast in marine applications.


Aluminum castings produced by die, permanent mold and sand casting processes peaked last year at 2 million tons, with 60% going toward motor vehicle applications.

Shipments of aluminum die castings peaked last year at 1.243 million tons and are forecast to see another boom year in '00 at 1.233 million tons, including 693,000 tons of motor vehicle applications.

The consumption of aluminum permanent mold and sand castings in motor vehicles also is forecast to reach record shipments in '00 at 523,000 tons, leading to a 829,000 tons in total shipments, which represents a 5.8% improvement over earlier estimates. Last year, 28% of the engines produced in the U.S. used aluminum engine blocks while 78% contained aluminum heads.

Brass and Bronze

Brass and bronze valve castings are expected to do slightly better than earlier forecasts, yet still drop 2% to 160,000 tons. Total U.S. shipments of copper-alloy castings are expected to come in at 308,000 tons during '00, also better than the original estimates.

Capacity 2000

The total domestic casting industry is operating at a capacity utilization rate of 82%. The individual breakdown is as follows: iron (82%), steel (72%), aluminum (89%), copper alloy (81%), magnesium (82%), zinc (81%), other nonferrous (84%) and investment casting (78%).
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Article Details
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Author:Kirgin, Kenneth H.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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