Furniture Outlook Guardedly Optimistic

    GRAND RAPIDS — The office furniture industry finished 2003 with flat sales and can look forward to a modest rebound beginning in the second quarter of 2004, according to a new industry outlook.

    The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association’s latest outlook is a little more optimistic than the previous forecast issued three months ago. The industry trade group’s forecasting model now calls for a 5.6 percent gain in industrywide shipments, to $8.95 billion, this year.

    BIFMA’s previous outlook was for a 2.5 percent gain. The improvement in the forecast comes from “an improving office construction outlook and brighter prospects for corporate profitability.”

    If the outlook holds true, 2004 would finally reverse the dramatic decline in the office furniture industry that began in late 2000 and led to three straight years of sales contraction.

    The outlook calls for another quarter of flat sales and then “modest increases” in the second quarter. The outlook, from the economic consulting firm Global Insight, says traditional growth drivers for the industry are picking up and expects “that it will take some time to translate into increased orders and shipments of office furniture.

    “The office furniture industry is still struggling to pull out of an extended period of decline, finishing out 2003 with shipments virtually flat as compared to the fourth quarter of 2002,” BIFMA’s outlook stated.

    In 2003, industrywide shipments fell an estimated 4.7 percent to $8.47 billion, according to BIFMA. That represents a 36 percent, or $4.81 billion, decline over the sales peak of $13.28 billion in 2000.           

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