German makers of plastics and rubber equipment enjoyed a strong 2004, while results were more modest for Italian suppliers, according to year-end reports from two trade associations.
China played a key role for both countries - booming for German suppliers and shrinking for the Italians.
VDMA, Germany's Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, said the total value of machinery and equipment in Germany increased 9.4 percent in 2004, to 7.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion). The number includes core processing machinery such as injection presses, extruders and blow molding machines, plus molds and dies, auxiliary equipment and flexographic printing machinery for plastic film.
VDMA of Frankfurt, Germany, said 2004 marked the third straight year of growth for production and exports. Total exports of core machinery reached a record 3.7 billion euros ($4.6 billion).
Exports are a critical part of German plastics and rubber machinery - accounting for nearly 75 percent of the overall output.
In key export markets, the United States rebounded after several weak years, to increase by 15 percent and hit 441 million euros ($548 million). But the United States remained in second place, behind China - and China rocketed upward with a 51.3 percent jump, to 663 million euros ($825 million).
China first surpassed the United States in 2003 as the top export market for German-made plastics and rubber machines.
Led by China, Asia passed the 1 billion-euro mark for the first time and reached a high of 33.8 percent of all German exports.
Total exports increased by 14.7 percent.
France remained Germany's No. 3 export market. Russia climbed from ninth place up to fourth. Mexico moved from 17th to No. 8.
For core machinery, German manufacturers reported production of 5 billion euros ($6.2 billion) in 2004, up 14.1 percent from 2003. Auxiliary equipment increased by 11.2 percent, to 575 million euros ($715 million). Molds and dies remained flat, at 1.9 billion euros ($2.3 billion).
New orders for core machinery increased 5 percent from the year before.
VDMA said capacity utilization of German machinery builders remained at a high level through last fall, then declined slightly toward the end of the year.
VDMA predicts German output in 2005 will remain below last year's level, based on a slowdown in new orders received in the second half of 2004 and the first few months of this year.
Assocomaplast, the Milan, Italy-based trade association, said production, exports and demand from domestic Italian customers all increased about 3 percent.
Assocomaplast reported the key European market has stagnated - and exports to China have fallen as well. China fell from the No. 3 export country for Italian-made machinery in 2003 to No. 5 in 2005. The trade group said the ``extraordinary growth'' of local Chinese production of processing machinery has eaten into its export business.
Italian companies said production of plastics and rubber machinery grew 3.2 percent in 2004, to 3.9 billion euros (US$4.8 billion).
Exports increased by 3.4 percent, to 2.3 billion euros (US$2.8 billion). The domestic market was 2.2 billion euros (US$2.8 billion), up 3.4 percent.
Italian processors imported 625 million euros' worth of rubber and plastics machinery in 2004, an increase of 4.7 percent over 2003 imports.