As I write David Cameron has just vetoed Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkosy’s proposal for closer fiscal integration between European states. A day earlier Standard and Poor’s put the best part of Europe on credit watch, threatening to downgrade national credit ratings if nothing substantial happened to shore up the collective accounts. The day after the 10-hour long European fiscal integration talks concluded with all but three countries (UK, Sweden and Hungary) signing up to the treaty within a treaty, far from stabilising things, increased Italian bond rates actually made its governmental borrowing more expensive.
The point is that the as 2011 draws to a close there are (at the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld) many known unknowns – things we already know are relatively unpredictable are facing the tyre business too – like whether or not we will have the euro as we presently know it next year. Either way currency exchange, borrowing and even intra-European exports look set for a bumpy ride over the next 12 months – all factors that have a particular resonance with the ever-trading tyre industry.
Other known unknowns include the finer details of the banding requirements and specific test methodologies relating to the truck tyre labelling regulations that are due to take effect next year. Much more is known about these since the EU commission published its latest guidance at the start of December, but there are still a few blanks. On top of this the commission has already pencilled in a review date for the labelling scheme in 2016. (See our Company News and Looking Back, Looking Forward sections, beginning on pages 36 and 56 respectively, for more on all things labelling)
Then there are the unknown unknowns. And these can be subdivided by internal and external unknowns. During the course of this year several moves took the market by surprise internally. Here in the UK, for example, few predicted that Itochu would own both a newly expanded leading UK tyre wholesaler and the largest independent tyre retailer Europe by the end of the first quarter. External but directly related pressures such as raw material costs also continue to confound the commentators. Having hit record highs during the course of 2011, natural rubber for example is now showing signs of stabilising. However, what happens from here on in is anyone’s guess.
With all this in mind, this month’s Tyres & Accessories takes on a distinctively reflective tone, looking back over the past year with fresh eyes and fresh insight. Examples of this approach can be seen throughout the December issue, but culminate in the Looking Back, Looking Forward feature, which specifically looks at labelling, tyre market trends and car registrations and begins on page 56. This issue also contains specialist features on the Tyre Changer and Wheel Balancing business (page 70) and Tyre Workshop Consumables (page 84).
Explaining what’s in the magazine is easy. And reporting on the latest developments in the market as and even before they happen is something Tyres & Accessories continues to specialise in. But if you ask me whether we will have a two-gear Europe or even if there will be a euro as we know it in a year’s time or indeed what this means for the tyre market: who knows?
So all that’s left to say, and on a somewhat more upbeat note, is thank you to all our readers and customers. On behalf of everyone at Tyres & Accessories a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year to you all.