The Lighting Systems Index (LSI) from Rosslyn, Va.-based National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) ticked 0.9% higher on a quarter-to-quarter basis during the third quarter of 2010. On a year-over-year basis, the index showed a 5.6% gain compared to the third quarter of 2009. Although the LSI has trended higher since hitting a cyclical (and all-time) low during the second quarter of 2009, aggregate lighting equipment demand remains at a very low level. In terms of the underlying mix of lighting systems products, growth was scattered across all five groups, but only fluorescent ballast shipments registered anything resembling an appreciable increase in demand from a year ago.

Significant weakness in both the residential and commercial markets continues to hamper demand for lighting equipment. Indeed, on the residential side of the market, new housing starts have largely remained at depressed levels after bottoming out in late 2008. Policy moves such as the federal homebuyer tax credit resulted in only a temporary blip in housing demand rather than engendering a permanent increase in latent housing demand. In addition, foreclosures continue to mount and barring any significant turnaround in the labor market, residential lamp demand will continue to struggle.

The backdrop for the non-residential lighting equipment market is not much better. While the steepest declines are over, commercial and industrial construction activity continued a 9-quarter slide by contracting at an annualized rate of 20% during the third quarter of 2010. Vacancy rates remain close to cyclical (and in some cases, record) highs and a substantial percentage of C&I loans are in default, forces that will certainly impede any upturn in nonresidential construction activity for several more quarters. Until construction begins to rebound, replacement demand will likely account for the vast majority of sales of nonresidential lighting equipment over the near term; in addition, retrofits will constitute a sizable share of demand as companies switch out non-compliant or higher-cost lighting systems. Consequently, the LSI will likely see modest gains through 2011.