Lighting Systems Index Indicates Brighter Times Ahead

According to the results of the third quarter 2010 NEMA Lighting Systems Index (LSI), performance bested the second quarter’s by 0.9% and was 5.6% ahead of third-quarter 2009’s. “While it’s hardly cause for jubilation,” says the National Lighting Bureau (NLB) Executive Director John Bachner, “it should give rise to at least some guarded optimism.”

Established in 1998, NEMA’s LSI is a composite measure of lamps, luminaires, ballasts, emergency lighting, exit signs, and other lighting products shipped nationally and internationally from the United States by the 450 companies that comprise the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). Adjusted for the season and inflation, the Index uses 2002 data for its 100 point benchmark.

“The first quarter of 2010 was the third consecutive quarter of LSI growth, and it gave us reason to believe a sooner-rather-than-later turn-around was possible. That optimism was dashed when 2010’s second quarter performance showed a 0.3% decline,” Bachner said. “Right now, it appears that the situation is holding steady; that any future declines are likely to be slight, and that improvements also will be slight, but they’re still likely to outnumber declines.”

The new residential- and commercial/industrial-construction markets are the principal drivers of lighting equipment sales. Both are weak and will remain so through most of 2011. According to NEMA Director of Economic Analysis Brian Lego, “New housing starts have largely remained at depressed levels after bottoming out in late 2008. Foreclosures continue to mount and, barring any significant turnaround in the labor market, residential lamp demand will continue to struggle.”

Lego said much the same about the commercial/industrial market, noting that, while the steepest declines are over, “commercial and industrial construction activity in 2010’s third quarter continued a nine quarter slide by contracting at an annualized rate of 20%. Vacancy rates remain close to cyclical (and in some cases, record) highs, and a substantial percentage of commercial and industrial loans are in default, forces that will certainly impede any upturn in nonresidential construction activity for several more quarters.”

Bachner commented that existing lighting system upgrades will probably account for most commercial and industrial equipment sales in the near term. Indeed, while the third quarter LSI performance improvement can be attributed to growth scattered throughout the product groups tracked by the Index, fluorescent ballast shipments registered the most appreciable increase, a development Bachner attributed to the July 1, 2010 phase-out of magnetic ballasts used for T12 fluorescent systems.