Bearings worldwide were doing significantly better. Orders were increasing globally and were forecast to grow 6.5 percent per year through 2005 to $42 billion. With supply levels remaining high worldwide, bearing prices overall were stable and not expected to rise in 2003. Conversely, prices for imports were expected to increase in 2003. As bearings from China came into the United States, selling at below market values, the federal government has levied anti-dumping duties of up to 59.3 percent. Lead times for all bearings continued to fall 10 to 20 percent with 60 percent of buyers receiving product within a week, according to one survey. Average lead time was about 2.6 weeks, down 19 percent from one year ago.
Supply and demand for different bearing designs - ball, roller, etc. - can vary based primarily upon the types of applications most prevalent in the country's industrial sector. But because each of the major anti-friction bearing designs (i.e., ball and roller, with other types tending to be derived from the major designs) is used in such a wide and diverse array of settings, most countries that comprise significant bearing markets (i.e., over about $100 million per year in annual sales) utilize both types in relatively large amounts.
While the industrialized nations tend to exhibit the largest and most mature (and thus most cyclical) bearings markets, the fastest growing markets are usually found within the developing nations of Asia, Latin America and (to a lesser extent) Africa/Mideast. Many such countries have been reforming and liberalizing their economies in recent years, in order to attract external investment capital and develop and expand their industrial sectors.
Industrial machinery applications dominate the world bearings markets, accounting for over half of total global demand. Industrialization programs in developing countries tend to involve substantial amounts of such machinery, and while in many cases these countries import machinery already incorporating bearings, the aftermarket tends to be sizable. The motor vehicle sector comprises the second largest application for anti-friction bearings in value terms, although it is far smaller than its industrial machinery counterparts
Investments and implementation of new production technologies continually improve productivity. With very rapid scientific advances, the bearing technology cycle has been squeezed into shorter periods so that productivity has been growing faster than bearing end-markets. This puts continuous pressure on the industry to consolidate.
The entry of China, for example, into world markets has not only created additional capacity, but also lowered prices of some bearings to levels not seen since the 1960s.
The China factor has also cut into some of Japan's exports, thus impacting Japan's incountry capacity (as Thailand and Singapore did with small ball bearings) and the United States by lowering general price levels. Eastern Europe, India, and other areas are developing in a similar pattern.
In addition, bearing materials and bearing quality have improved and extended bearing life. Longer bearing life reduces the demand for replacement bearings, and thereby, further contributes to surplus capacity. Lastly, the closed Japanese market contributes to overcapacity in slow economic times elsewhere in the world.