Milan — Declining trade and low demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have hit the Italian rubber and plastics machinery industry, with full recovery only likely in 2022, according to trade association Amaplast.
The uncertain outlook, combined with the ongoing travel restrictions, have considerably hampered the commissioning of new systems and the ability to provide service, the Milan-based association said.
Italy's rubber and plastics machinery industry exports roughly 70 percent of production, a percentage rising to as high as 90 percent for certain types of equipment. Moreover, as the order portfolio dwindles, an additional problem has emerged: slower or deferred installations and repairs is causing additional pain in the form of delays in payments.
Citing import-export data recently published by the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Amaplast said machinery exports to the Americas fell 27 percent in the first three months of the year, nearly matching the 28 percent year-over-year losses in Asia.
With the downturn of the global economy, investments are at a standstill in the plastics and rubber industries, the association said in a statement.
The situation is particularly dire for automotive and building applications, where demand has fallen to extremely low levels. On the other hand, health care and cleaning/personal-hygiene product containers and the packaging sector in general are doing well, the association added.
In 2019, production and exports shrank 6 percent, down for the first time after eight straight years of growth. Amaplast said 2020 clearly will not be a rebound year for the Italian plastics and rubber processing machinery industry, considered one of the country's mainstays in mechanical engineering.
While forecasts are always projections, a return to pre-crisis levels is highly unlikely to be achieved in 2021. According to Amaplast, a full recovery may be looked for at the earliest by 2022.
The drop in orders recorded in the past weeks has directly affected manufacturers of auxiliary equipment. For suppliers of more complex and costly plants, with longer delivery times, the full impact will be felt further down the line, even in 2021.
The domestic market, already weak structurally, also is suffering. It does not currently appear to benefit to any great extent from the emergency measures implemented by the government to counter the crisis.
A breakdown of the first quarter export figures show declines of 24 percent in exports to the U.S., 16 percent for Mexico and 37 percent for Brazil.
In Asia, exports to China fell 27 percent in the first quarter of 2002 compared to last year, while sales to India and Indonesia recorded declines of 6 percent and 75 percent respectively.
In Europe, the decrease was limited to 4 percent, with exports showing the following trends in the main outlet markets.
Exports to Germany fell 3 percent over the first quarter, while Spain and France posted declines of 40 percent and 21 percent respectively.
Export figures for Poland and the United Kingdom were up, showing increases of 40 percent and 8 percent respectively.
Russia registered the strongest growth at 218 percent, Amaplast said.
Sales in Africa remained broadly constant, although the two main outlet markets — Morocco and South Africa — recorded downturns of 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively.