Thursday, 1 June 2017

President’s Column

Dear Members and Colleagues

Almost half way through 2017 and it has been a much better start to the year than 2016 already with many of us starting to see a recovery in our end user markers and a generally improved situation for many of us in our industry as a result.

So today I find myself torn between thinking about what the rest of this year will bring for our industry and thoughts of my summer vacation which is just next week. Whilst none of us like to admit it, I am sure many of us get to this point and silently wish for an extra week to work on those last details that just can’t be left unfinished.

At the start of the week my ears pricked up at the news of a mild oil price recovery. I’m in two minds as to how important this is for our industry today as whatever action is taken by OPEC will likely be counted by increased shale production over the coming years. The more positive news has to be the firming of the support base for the current oil price which may indicate a little more stability going forward.

Then my mind wandered to warmer weather and if there would be decent, stable wifi to be able to check my email whilst I’m on holiday.

Stability. That is a word used a lot around the world these days as the political and business landscapes change, in some places quite radically. This sea change in politics seems to me to be driven primarily by social media. Social media is great for us all and provides a platform for our voices to be heard, yet it is also a dimension where facts are often distorted at best and fabricated at worst. Even reality is sometimes claimed to be fake. Professional networks, such as LinkedIn, are no different. There seems to have been a big increase in the number of “professionals” who have shifted from being generally professional to pandering to a base level of nonsense and providing “advice”. Some of 

this “advice” would probably see most companies finish an interview prematurely or even impacting negatively on a customer situation. Sadly, as with other social media in these situations, it is the loudest voice which gets heard. This is normal however, we all know a loud voice is not always the most sage. So what relevance does this have on us and our industries? Well, probably none but I hope that any impact politically is only positive but time will tell. Socially, it can only bring us together and the wealth of information out there is wonderful both socially and professionally.
One such type of information are reports and papers on market conditions. I have ready many of these types of things over the years and there are two things I can conclude. Number one, they all say the same thing, namely “things were bad but will improve”. Number two, they are almost immediately out of date and useless beyond their commentary for the present and maybe first year which can give us a little insight or support for what we already thought we knew. After that they are all useless, such is the pace of change internationally. Internationally, I’m thinking about my vacation again!

For sure, some of our industries’ end user markets have seen a bit of a recovery in 2017 and, if we believe the forecasts, a recovery in our industry will continue to be led by end user markets such as cement, non-ferrous metals, glass and incineration. Of course, iron, steel and ferrous foundry are the largest market and any recovery here, however small, will be welcome news for everyone.

On that happy and positive note, it’s time for me to spend a little more time looking forward to my vacation next week and how on earth I’m going to be able to pack clothes in around all the gifts for friends and family that we have to cram in the cases. You just can’t forecast first world problems like that!


Callum Arthur
President
Institute of Refractories Engineers