The start of 2019 carries with it several uncertainties from 2018: for example, the instability of the global supply chain caused by the United States’ trade war with China, and volatile oil prices brought about partly by ongoing situations within Venezuela and the Middle East. Despite efforts by the federal government to alleviate some of the negative effects of these events, many small and medium-sized businesses must continue seeking new ways to adapt to an unstable global market.
Here we outline these causes of uncertainty and how they impact businesses like UP&R:
Volatile Oil Prices
Oil prices have fluctuated dramatically over the last 12 months, disrupting supply chains for manufacturers that rely on this resource. For example, between mid-September and late November 2018, oil prices dropped from approximately $74 per gallon to just $50 per gallon in a span of six weeks. This creates a frustrating situation for oil consumers, who in turn have a more difficult job ascertaining when to purchase oil and how much of it.
Uncertainty in Future Price Outlook
Oil traders base their pricing as much on their perceptions of the oil market’s direction as they do on the oil’s value itself. If traders expect an increase in oil supply, they quickly lower their prices to undercut their competitors. Similarly, if oil traders have reason to believe demand will rise or oil supply will fall, they raise their prices accordingly.
In late 2018, a boom of American shale oil production coincided with an increase in Arabian drilling to counteract an unexpected thaw in sanctions imposed on Iran. This created fears of an oil supply glut, as American, Arabian, and Russian companies stepped up production to prevent their market share from going to Iranian producers. While quick decisions like these are impossible to fully predict, it’s important to monitor the political situation surrounding the oil trade (as well as other commodities markets that make up a particular supply chain) to best anticipate when to procure.
Slow-Changing Supply and Demand
Other markets can balance out changes in supply and demand fairly quickly. For example, the cotton industry can easily account for changes in demand because it’s based on an organic substance that’s relatively quick to produce. If cotton’s in high demand, farmers can simply plant more of it and expect to see the positive effects within the upcoming seasons.
The same cannot be said for oil suppliers. Oil is a more finite resource, and it can take over 10 years to develop new wells. Only very large price changes can rebalance the supply and demand for oil. For this reason, it’s harder for the supply of oil to adapt to changes in the market, which ironically makes its pricing more volatile. If oil traders anticipate that they may need to sit on vast stocks of oil while demand is low, they’ll price it more cheaply to move as much of it as possible. For this reason, it’s also important to monitor changes in the oil market so that you can buy oil when nobody else is.
How This Affects Us
Because UP&R products consist mainly of oil-based compounds, we’ve had to shake up our strategies to account for worldwide fluctuations. We take extra care to monitor the latest fluctuations in the oil market. Oil prices directly impact our ability to provide cost-efficient rubber products. Therefore, recent volatility in the oil market means that small- and medium-sized businesses have to devote more resources – one notably being the amount of time invested – to monitoring developing situations instead of focusing on their products and branding.
The Trade War With China
In early June, the Trump Administration imposed tariffs on over 5,700 products that the United States regularly imports from China. Although intended to bolster United States production, these tariffs perplexed American manufacturers who rely on Chinese-made parts. This latest round of tariffs particularly affected UP&R because Chinese manufacturers create many of the rubber and polymer components that we turn into finished products. UP&R is diligently working to protect its margins in a this time of trade war uncertainties.
Although the long-term effects of the trade war are yet to be seen, in the short term, many small- and medium-sized businesses have had to raise prices in response to price changes in their supply chain. While most of these price changes don’t affect consumer-oriented products, they have driven up costs particularly in the automotive and medical manufacturing fields. These industries rely heavily on rubber- and plastic-based products to build gaskets, seals, brake pads, and tires (for automotive applications) and extruded plastic tubing and device housings (for medical equipment). UP&R also has been forced to raise its prices as this industry operates on rzor thin margins, and any increased must be calculated into the selling price.
Quality Rubber Solutions at UP&R
Despite an uncertain trade climate and the roller coaster ride of determining when to buy oil, we at UP&R seek to provide the same high-caliber products and services that our customers have come to expect. We’re confident that we can weather this storm of economic factors without affecting our clients’ bottom line.
If you would like to learn more about our work or quality rubber and polymer solutions, contact us today.