Pick up any newspaper or magazine or tune in to your TV stations this month and inevitably there will be the usual annual review of what has hit the headlines during the past year. There will be items that include famous anniversaries, political or celebrity scandals, international arguments, elections won or lost, notable sporting achievements, the passing away of celebrities (yes, there were others in addition to Michael Jackson), plus all the news and horror stories from the front lines of the world’s war zones. This year, in particular, the world’s economic problems have been right up there with the rest of the top news stories. Well, you can’t blame the press, as the crisis will have touched – if not everybody – then certainly many millions across all the continents.
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At the beginning of the New Year, the interest will turn away from the past to what lies ahead for the next 12 months before we come around again to December. More of the same? Probably! Scandals and conflicts? Definitely! Economic recovery? Grey area! If we believe the current business news coming out of some European countries, notably from Germany, France and Italy, then the recovery there has begun, but sad to report not in the UK or Spain, which are still in recession and to all accounts not likely to emerge from it until well into 2010. Across the Atlantic in North America, it seems to depend where you are, with some states seemingly far worse off than others, but generally there is still a feeling of depression with unemployment nationally running at 10%. A gauge of North America’s health can be seen through the state of the country’s cement industry. Ed Sullivan, Chief Economist at the PCA, addressing a recent gathering of top US cement producers in Washington, presented another gloomy outlook. He suggested that 2009 represented a recession trough for cement consumption – reflecting a 26.3% decline from weak 2008 levels. The gains in cement consumption for 2010 are expected to be meagre, indicating harsh conditions facing the industry through next year and beyond. Sullivan’s predictions have been challenged in certain quarters by other analysts, but the figures in the coming months will either reinforce his predictions or ensure that he readjusts his figures when he comes to make his spring forecast, around the time of the IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Industry Conference at the end of March (see page 15).
Although it is difficult to pick out a single headline from this year’s news that merits a short comment here, there was an anniversary worth mentioning that we want to use as a trailer for the start of our new monthly Regional Insight due to begin on our website in January. In September, Colonel Gaddafi celebrated his 40th anniversary as leader of Libya, Africa’s fourth largest country, with six days of festivities culminating in the arrival in Tripoli, straight from a Scottish prison, of Abdel Ali Magrahi, the terrorist convicted of planting the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. The UK, the US and many other governments were highly critical of Libya’s jubilant reactions to the return of the terrorist. Find out what effect this has had or might have on business relations between the countries that deal with Libya, or have extensive business interests in the country, by visiting www.worldcement.com next month.
Before that, the WORLD CEMENT team would like to thank all our readers and advertisers for their continued support throughout the year, and to wish everybody Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year.