“A harbinger of much better to come” were the words National Lighting Bureau (NLB) Executive Director John Bachner used to characterize the positive fourth-quarter 2012 performance of the NEMA Lighting Systems Index (LSI). He was right: First-quarter 2013 LSI performance bested the prior quarter’s by 5.4% and was ahead of first-quarter 2012’s performance by 3.8%.

“While the news is good,” said Bachner. “We’re still far behind the highs registered during the previous economic expansion. I’m confident we’ll get to where we want to be, but it will take more time.”

NEMA’s LSI is a composite measure of luminaires, ballasts, miniature lamps, large lamps, and emergency lighting shipped throughout the United States by the lighting-equipment manufacturers of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). Adjusted for seasonality and inflation, the Index uses 2002 data for its 100-point benchmark.

Increased sales of fixtures, large lamps, emergency lamps, and miniature lamps led the first-quarter upswing, a trend that is likely to continue, according to NEMA Director of Statistical Operations Stacey Harrison. "Some of the “key drivers of lighting-equipment demand are improving," said Harrison. "The housing recovery remains on track; overall housing starts in April 2013 were about 20% higher than in April 2012, with 1 million starts being forecast for the year and 1.275 million being predicted for 2014.”

Nonresidential construction is improving, too, but not as fast. “First-quarter 2013 investment outlays are up slightly more than 1% compared to the first quarter of 2012,” said Harrison. “Leading indicators such as architecture-firm billings and income-property prices continue to indicate that continued improvement is on the horizon… . The outlook for commercial construction — including office, retail, warehouse, dining/drinking establishments — is more promising for electrical equipment manufacturers, because it is expected to outpace the broader sector in the coming several quarters.”