After seeing modest gains in each of the five prior quarters, NEMA’s Lighting Systems Index receded 2.1 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis during 4Q 2010. On a year-over-year basis the index was essentially unchanged, indicating that aggregate lighting equipment demand has not improved appreciably since the recovery began and remains well below the levels observed during the previous economic expansion. Among the five lighting systems products included in the index, emergency lighting, ballasts and large lamps posted year-over-year declines in shipments while fixtures and miniature lamps registered solid gains compared to the fourth quarter of 2009.
End-market demand remains extremely lackluster for lighting equipment as both the residential and commercial markets continue to grapple with anemic construction activity. Single-family housing starts registered their second-lowest annual average reading on record during 2010. The extension of the federal homebuyer tax credit only shifted purchases to the first half of 2010 and did not yield a permanent increase in housing demand. New home construction will likely remain weak over the near term as foreclosure activity lingers near all-time highs and the slow recovery in the labor market weighs on household formation.
The nonresidential lamp market has seen significant struggles as well over the past few years. While some regulatory changes have temporarily juiced up demand for some lighting systems recently, commercial and industrial lamp demand has declined at a double-digit annualized rate in each of the last 9 quarters. Vacancy rates inched lower during 4Q 2010, but remain close to cyclical highs and output and job growth will have to rebound at a much stronger pace to allow for the absorption of this glut of available space. Consequently, replacement activity is expected to constitute an unusually large share of nonresidential lighting equipment demand over the near term. Retrofits will also play a significant role as companies continue the process of switching out non-compliant systems or opt to install more efficient equipment. Given this backdrop, the LSI is expected to see only modest gains at best during 2011.
Brian Lego, Director, Economic Analysis