German plastics processors achieved a new record of 60.8 billion euros ($63.8 billion) in sales in 2016, a growth rate of 3.2 percent from 2015. There had been more moderate 1.3 percent growth in 2015, said the industry's GKV trade association at its traditional Ash Wednesday annual press briefing March 1.
International sales for German companies rose slightly faster, at 3.6 percent growth to 22.5 billion euros ($23.6 billion), while domestic sales grew 2.8 percent to 38.3 billion euros ($40.1 billion).
Productivity was also higher, the GKV figures showed. The number of employees at the 2,906 GKV member companies rose by just 0.3 percent to 317,000. But the volume of plastics processed increased by 3.6 percent to 14.1 million metric tons, following stagnation at 13.6 million tonnes in 2014 and 2015.
Sector growth was led by packaging (2016 sales of 14.2 billion euros ($14.9 billion), up 4.4 percent; volume increased from 4.2 million to 4.3 million tonnes) and the building industry sales of 19.1 billion euros ($20 billion), up 4.7 percent; volume rose from 4.9 million to 5 million tonnes.
Technical parts, representing the automotive industry to a large extent, achieved 1.7 percent higher sales at 17.9 billion euros ($18.8 billion), with volume up from 3.2 million to 3.3 million tonnes. At a lower level, plastic consumer goods rose 2 percent to 9.6 billion euros ($10 billion), with volume up from 1.3 million to 1.5 million tonnes.
In view of the United Kingdom's forthcoming exit from the European Union, GKV ran a survey among member companies to sound out their views about Brexit. This showed that 4 percent of the companies surveyed considered that Brexit would be extremely damaging to their business, while 52 percent thought it could possibly be associated with disadvantages and 44 percent thought it wouldn't make any difference for them.
Prospects for completion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) pact between the EU and the U.S. have been questioned by observers, so GKV also asked members about how a failure to reach an agreement would affect the companies. Here, 57 percent expected that it would not make any difference, 41 percent that there would be disadvantages and just 2 percent that it would be very damaging.
GKV president Dirk O. Westerheide said 2016 was “in many respects a year of superlatives.” But the trade policy of President Donald Trump is now of concern to GKV, in view of the many plastics parts made in Germany and exported within other goods to the U.S. GKV recommends Trump rethink his policies on TTIP and free trade.
On the other hand, Westerheide said GKV has “great hopes about the positive effect to be expected with the CETA [Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] free trade agreement between the EU and Canada.”
Whatever the uncertainties, Westerheide said companies should exploit the present environment of low interest rates to make new investments, and avoid a likely increase in interest rates by the ECB in 2018.
In GKV's outlook for 2017, Westerheide said: “The mood in plastic processing at the beginning of 2017 is shifting between uncertainty and confidence. Nevertheless, confidence prevails and therefore we are encouraged that our industry will continue to follow the success of the previous year in 2017, and then go on to achieve sales growth of between 2 and 2.5 percent in 2018.”
GKV Managing Director Oliver Möllenstädt also presented results of a survey among GKV member companies, in which 32 percent said they intended to increase investment in 2017, 58 percent to maintain investment and 10 percent to reduce it.
Although 35 percent intended to take on more staff in 2017, 58 percent to retain existing staff levels and only 7 percent to reduce them, concern exists among 70 percent of GKV member companies about continuing shortages of professional staff and suitable candidates for apprenticeship. This concern was expressed by 60.3 percent of members in the 2016.
Among respondents, 77.7 percent of the companies have problems in recruiting process technicians, 35.8 percent suffer from short supply of plastics technicians and 56.1 percent from difficulty in finding candidates for apprenticeships.