NEMA’s Lighting Systems Index increased 1.1 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis during the first quarter of 2010. On a year-over-year basis the index posted a similar increase of 1.2 percent, marking the first time since the second quarter of 2006 that the LSI has registered an appreciable gain compared to the same period a year ago. Three types of lighting systems (large lamps, emergency lighting equipment and fixtures) saw very modest declines in seasonally- and inflation-adjusted shipments, but these losses were more than offset by gains in miniature lamps and fluorescent ballasts. Although the LSI has increased in each of the last three quarters, the gains have been relatively modest and overall lighting equipment demand remained at a low level during the first quarter of 2010.
The U.S. economic recovery is broadening and, while it cannot be ruled out entirely, the probability of a double-dip recession is shrinking rapidly. Indeed, real GDP increased 3.2 percent on an annualized basis during 2010Q1 and has expanded at an average annualized rate of nearly 4 percent over the last three quarters. As was the case in 2009Q4, inventory investment contributed greatly to growth; however, capital spending has increased at a double-digit pace in the past two quarters and consumer spending posted its largest percentage gain in three years. Moreover, other data sources such as the ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys, durable goods orders and payrolls paint a picture of an economy beginning to gain some traction.
Nonetheless, even with the backdrop of an improving U.S. economy, the LSI is expected to see only modest gains at best for the balance of 2010 as most of the demand drivers for lighting equipment have yet to see their prospects improve. The residential market has been volatile for the past year and the recent expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit could cause housing demand to remain flat, or even weaken, through the end of the year absent a stronger turnaround in the labor market. Private nonresidential lighting equipment demand is expected to weaken further over the course of the year as companies continue to pull back on new construction in the face of tight lending conditions and still-rising vacancy rates. While retrofitting activity could bolster demand for commercial lighting equipment to some extent, outdoor equipment and other systems used in public sector projects are likely to see the largest boost in shipments over the near term thanks to the ongoing process of spending out stimulus funds on construction projects.