The production value of German-made plastics and rubber machinery declined 2.7 percent in 2001, as strong export growth from China and a backlog of 2000 orders offset big declines in key markets of the United States, Great Britain, Italy and Spain, according to a trade group's figures.
For 2002, production cuts will be more severe at about 12 percent, said Frankfurt, Germany-based VDMA, that country's plastics and rubber machinery association.
VDMA said 2001 marked the second straight year of declining sales to the United States. The United States still is the largest export market for German-made plastics and rubber processing equipment, accounting for $328 million of the total $2.44 billion worth of exports in 2001. France is second, and VDMA said slightly more than half of all exports were delivered to European countries.
German companies produced a total of $5.65 billion worth of equipment, including processing machinery, molds and dies, auxiliary equipment and flexographic machines to print onto plastic films.
That grand total marked a 1.1 percent increase, as all categories grew except processing machinery - the biggest segment, which includes injection presses, blow molding machines and extruders.
The processing machinery segment totaled $3.45 billion, a 2.7 percent decline from a very strong 2000. Noting the seemingly small downturn, VDMA said manufacturers were cushioned by a large backlog at the beginning of 2001. Orders fell throughout last year, depleting the backlog by the year's end.
Capacity utilization for German machinery makers fell to 84.7 percent, VDMA said. Employment held steady, although VDMA expects a small decline in jobs this year.
German processors were healthy in 2001. VDMA reports that German-made machinery shipped to German customers grew 6.2 percent. Sales of imported machines also grew slightly.
But exports, so critical to German machinery makers, fell 7 percent. The lone bright spots were China and Mexico. China rocketed from sixth place to third for German exports, with 55 percent growth in 2001 over 2000. German suppliers shipped $145 million worth of machines to China.
German machines also did well in Latin America. Mexico bought $82 million worth of German plastics and rubber equipment, up 45 percent. Brazil skyrocketed more than 80 percent, to $76 million.
Meanwhile, several stalwart countries in Europe cut spending on German equipment. Sales to Italy fell nearly 20 percent, and Great Britain declined nearly 19 percent. Spain fell from fifth place to ninth, as exports to that country collapsed by more than 30 percent.
Analyzing machines by sector, VDMA reported a 14 percent decline in the value of production of injection molding presses. Blow molding fell by 11 percent. On a more upbeat note, extrusion reported a small gain of about 2 percent.
Despite the pessimistic outlook for this year, VDMA said German manufacturers will see markets start to grow again in 2003.