HDMA webinar: Despite positive signs, 2021 still mostly a mystery

Dr. Bob Dieli, economist, MacKay & Company, during Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association’s (HDMA) recent webinar, used Talking Heads lyrics from the song “Life During Wartime,” to explain industry challenges as it conducts business while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen.

The song, which talks about a situation in which there are many problems confronting society, includes the refrain: “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.” Dieli said, “Everything I have been doing over the last year has been a reminder that while we can rely on certain types of information and certain historical patterns, what we are going through now is completely different.”

As in other webinars he reiterated that you can’t sell what you don’t have, which he said is extremely important because “the reports we’re getting about problems with the supply chain involving all parts of it, exports, imports, as well as the entire domestic economy, suggests we’re going to have some trouble going forward to … sustain a renewed expansion of the economy.”

A recovery is going to depend on how the process of vaccination and other aspects of public health unfold. However, Dieli said there will be some economic changes that will affect domestic and international economic activity that are going to present significant opportunities. “So rather than hunker down, I think the time has come to start to look up, to start looking forward and to see what plans can be made to take advantage of those opportunities,” he said.

Richard Anderson, director, market research and analysis​, HDMA, echoed Dieli’s comments about the unknowns continuing to plague the industry.

“The outlook for 2021, while wildly positive in direction is both highly variable and clouded by uncertainty. Forecast accuracy and demand volatility continue to make life difficult for suppliers. We’re looking at a good year but how good, when, where and why, we don’t really know,” Anderson said, adding, “We may think we know what will happen during 2021 but we don’t know how we’re going to get there.”

Another major finding in the HDMA Q4 2020 Supplier Barometer + Pulse Survey is that COVID continues to bring challenges to suppliers both in their internal operations and … the supply chain.

“The risk of infection is still high and labor availability continues to be a challenge for suppliers and people within their supply chain,” he said. “These difficulties being present throughout the supply chain continue to bring fears of bottlenecks and … delays as recoveries happen.”

The HDMA Q4 2020 Supplier Barometer + Pulse Survey asked member companies about their level of COVID infections across their North American staff. The most current results indicate 43 percent saw a small increase from November to December 2020. Approximately 40 percent of respondents reported no change in December compared with 36 percent the previous month.

The survey also asked about the greatest risk faced by their business related to COVID-19. Responses included health, safety and availability of team members, the ability to maintain new customer relations without personal interaction and shutdowns affecting the overall economy.

When suppliers were asked for the three most significant challenges to restarting normal business operations, 27 percent reported labor force readiness and availability, raw material and semi-finished goods procurement (26 percent) and accuracy of production and demand forecasts (20 percent).

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