MANCHESTER, UK — As with other manufacturing sectors, the UK coatings, printing ink and wallcoverings industries have experienced challenging trading conditions since the end of March. While retail paint, woodcare, packaging (coatings and inks) sales have been strong during lockdown, industrial coatings, professional decorative coatings and publication printing inks have experienced 20-50% lower sales than normal.

This overall uncertainty is reflected in the latest BCF Business Confidence Index, based on research with coatings and printing ink manufacturers in June 2020. Overall confidence has fallen to its lowest level since the survey began in 2012.

The June 2020 results (37.0) represent a drop of almost 50% compared to the long-term average of 71.3.

However, business confidence differed among sector groups. For example, decorative paints and wood-care are optimistic, with 67% expecting to see UK sales volumes higher in the second half of 2020 than in 2019. This reflects the growth in DIY sales experienced in lockdown with householders spending more time at home, which is expected to continue into the autumn.

It’s a very different outlook for industrial coatings, with 95% of companies predicting lower sales in the second half of 2020, in the region of 10-30% and 50% of printing ink companies also forecasting a decline. Overall, smaller companies are more likely to be predicting lower sales (72%).

On a more positive note, 47% predicted no change in staff numbers, and only 20% are expecting to reduce headcount. This is likely to be reflective of the furlough scheme, which has been a great support to many organizations through this period.

The outlook for our sector will be heavily linked to how quickly the UK manufacturing and construction sectors recover. The majority of BCF members don’t expect a return to pre-Covid business conditions until at least the end of 2021.

BCF Chief Executive Tom Bowtell said, “It’s clear from the latest confidence index that our members have been through a hugely challenging period, and are now faced with the possible implications of at best, a hard Brexit, likely to include a separate chemicals regulatory regime for the UK. We urge the UK Government to conclude the EU FTA talks with a deal, which includes the closest alignment of chemical regulations as possible.”