Italian plastics & rubber machinery exports have declined 0.6% year-on-year in the first nine months of the year 2018, according to Amaplast, the Italian trade association for rubber & plastics machinery.
The export figures are in stark contrast to the 11.4% growth in imports seen during this same period, in response to the Italian government’s investment incentives put in place to deliver a boost to the local market.
The strong growth in imports, however, is significantly lower compared to the +26% achieved in the first quarter and the +23% in the second quarter, Amaplast said 19 Dec.
Machinery exports remained weak, with sales volumes dipping into negative territory toward the end of the nine-month period while exhibiting only minor recoveries along the way.
Regarding performance by machinery type, Amaplast said the trend was “still quite positive” for injection moulding machines, extrusion lines, and blow moulding machines. However, demand has tapered for auxiliary equipment and moulds.
In terms of export regions, the figures show a “major shift” in Asia with the Far East – led by Indian and South Korea – registering growth of 9.7%. In the Middle East, sales fell by 37.1%, with demand cooling particularly in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Israel.
NAFTA countries posted a 6.5% growth, helped by Mexico’s good performance, while Central and South America recorded a decline of nearly 13%. Here, Brazil remained flat while Argentina posted negative results amid growth worries.
Sales to Northern Africa grew +13.0, contrasting with weaker sales in the sub-Saharan markets at 0.8%.
Lacklustre exports in Europe led to a small 1.2% overall decline in sales, with the CIS states reporting a 12% drop in demand, due mainly to “stalled sales” in Russia.
“The flat trend in sales abroad comes as no great surprise given an overall economic context that is losing vigour, both in Italy and in Europe generally,” stated Amaplast president Alessandro Grassi.
According to Grassi, German companies have also faced an abrupt drop in exports, which, although “still in the double digits this past March and June", had fallen to +4.5% in September.
Amaplast’s latest mid-year member survey showed that slightly less than half of participants expect “a stable turnover” at the end of the second half-year, while one third expect continuing growth. As regards order books, only one-fifth of the respondents were optimist about growth.
In light of the data, the Italian trade association said it expected the full year production and foreign trade results to remain roughly in line with 2017.
This, it added, “must be considered a positive result” given that 2017 saw a peak in trade over the past five years.
As for the outlook for 2019, Amaplast remained “cautious” amid uncertainties, political and otherwise, both within the country and Europe.
Amaplast however, played down the tense political undercurrents saying the industry is now “rather used to the volatility in the global economy” and that the current slowdown in demand “had not caught anyone by surprise”.
The trade organisation also noted that Italian machinery manufacturers should ready themselves for the challenges presented by the EU’s ambitions to transition to a more circular economy.
“While it might be taken as a threat at first sight, the turn toward the circular economy is actually an excellent opportunity for growth for manufacturers of plastics and rubber processing machinery, equipment and moulds,” the organisation said.