One word probably best describes the economic outlook heading into 2019: Uncertainty.
That was the overriding feeling of the tire industry during the frenetic week that is the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show/Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas.
As officials from both the tire and the automotive aftermarket industries from all parts of the world discussed their companies and their new products being promoted at SEMA and/or AAPEX, most seemed to express uncertainty about the year ahead.
Just what can we expect in 2019?
Will the Trump administration follow through on its threat to slap a 25-percent import tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese industrial and consumer goods, up from the 10-percent duty already in place? What will China do to retaliate?
Will the president impose tariffs on cars imported from Europe, as he has threatened? What other sectors might be threatened and/or impacted?
And how will this affect the price of raw materials, used to make rubber products and other materials vital to the industry's health?
No matter which side of the pond their companies' headquarters are located, officials said they were hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Do they buy more product today to avoid duties? Do they increase prices in anticipation of product shortages? If so, how much of the cost do they pass on to customers?
Uncertainty was evident before the results of the mid-term elections.
With the Democrats securely in charge of the House of Representatives — at this writing, the Democrats have flipped 35 seats, giving them a 230-198 majority, with seven races still too close to call — Washington observers expect more gridlock, and worse yet, heightened partisan fighting.
Republicans did increase their advantage in the Senate. With two races to be decided — Republicans clearly are the favorites in each — the GOP likely will have a 53-47 advantage once the new Congress is sworn in.
Some are hopeful that a comprehensive infrastructure bill — something both parties can and should support — will result. It might be the only low-hanging fruit that the divided government could enact in the next legislative session.
Still, even those industry advocates are uncertain what the future holds.
"It is difficult to predict what will happen next," Anne Forristall Luke, president and CEO of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, told Tire Business recently. "It's a recipe for God knows what."
Perhaps the best advice came from Karl Rove, a former Republican presidential adviser who was one of the keynote speakers at the AAPEX breakfast.
Mr. Rove, who shared the stage with CNN correspondent John King, ended his thought-provoking talk by asking the audience whether they participated in the election process.
"Raise your hand if you have donated to a political campaign," he said.
Clearly expecting more hands, Mr. Rove said that no matter your political persuasion, business owners should make it a point to get involved and meet their local government representatives by attending town halls and political events, in order to be heard.
There was no uncertainty in his message. "Personal relationships matter," Mr. Rove said.