R.W. Baird and FCH Sourcing Network released their monthly Fastener Distributor Index (FDI) for May on Friday, showing a modest decrease last month — its fourth straight decline overall.

The seasonally-adjusted May FDI showed a mark of 56.6, down from April’s 57.4; March’s 59.5; February’s 60.4; and January’s 60.8. Since a recent peak of 62.2 in October 2017, the FDI has declined in five out of the past seven months.

For all indexes, any reading above 50 indicates expansion, while any reading below 50 indicates contraction. So while May’s 56.6 mark is still in solid expansion territory, there’s been a notable slowdown so far in 2018.

The FDI’s Forward-Looking-Indicator — aimed to provide a directional perspective on future expectations for fastener market conditions — was essentially flat, dipping by 0.1 points from April to a mark of 58.8. April mark of 58.9. That figure has fallen in three out of the past four months since starting the year at January’s 64.7 spike.

According to the FDI, 54 percent of respondents indicated sales were better relative to seasonal expectations, compared to 56 in April and 64 percent in March. The FDI’s seasonally-adjusted sales index of 61.2 in May was another decline from 63.0 in April; 70.1 in March; 74.2 in February; and 82.0 in January; indicating continued weakened selling conditions.

Looking at other FDI metrics in April :

  • Employment index increased to 60.7 from 59.4 in April
  • Supplier Deliveries index increased to 73.2 from 71.9 in April
  • Month-to-Month Pricing index increased to 75.0 from 73.4 in April
  • Year-to-Year Pricing index decreased to 87.5 from 89.1 in April
  • Respondent Inventories index increased to 57.1 from 53.1 in April
  • Customer Inventories index remained at 37.5

The FDI report gave the following analysis of commentary from survey respondents:

Commentary from respondents skewed positive overall again this quarter. According to several participants, demand remains strong, with one respondent indicating “open orders are up 39 percent compared to last year at this time.” Another distributor highlighted construction as a particularly strong end market, saying “Watch the markets on cement companies and contractors. Their demand is going way up nationwide. Time to get in!” Steel tariffs and global trade remain topics of heavy discussion in the industry. One respondent indicated that they “still [have] concerns over the Chinese tariffs if they go through!” Inflationary pressures from raw material increases and steel/aluminum tariffs are increasingly evident in the channel. One distributor commented on this by saying, “Material prices in general are up, and some material distributors may take advantage of the situation and raise other material prices not subject to tariffs [i.e.] brass.” Quantitatively, survey data points to sustained momentum expected through 2018, with 50% of respondents expecting higher activity levels over the next six months and 43 percent expecting similar activity.