Italian plastic machinery fights back

The year 2015 has heralded an upturn for the Italian plastics and rubber machinery, equipment and mold manufacturer. This being primarily thanks to exports which account for most of the output

The year 2015 has provided very positive indicators for Italian plastics and rubber machinery, equipment and mold manufacturers, highlighting the consolidation and pickup of this sector. This trend being mainly due to exports, which accelerated particularly towards the end of the year, reaching a record 2.9 billion euros, accounting for 70% of the production output, as compared to 67% in 2014. The total output value of 4.15 billion euro, further highlighting this growth trend in the last five year period, approaching the pre-crisis levels of 2008. While the trade balance, of over 2.15 billion euros, is the best result of the last decade. This being the picture outlined by Assocomaplast, the Italian Plastics and Rubber Processing Machinery and Molds Manufacturers’ Association, together with their forecasts for the current year.

The main export markets
According to a market report prepared by the Assocomaplast Research Centre, 50% of Italian exports (1.4 billion euros, +10.6%) are destined for EU countries, particularly Germany (395 million, +14%), while the non-EU countries have recorded a slight downturn (306 million, -0.7%) mainly due to the ongoing difficulties of the Russian market. There has been a significant increase in exports to the Nafta countries (398 million, +37.5%), becoming the second largest market for Italian products, thanks above all to supplies to American processors (260 million, +49.7%), while there has all been a rise in exports to Mexico (101 million, +19.1%) and Canada (37 million, +19.6%). The third largest destination of Italian exports being the Far East, totalling 330 million (+6.1%) followed by an increase to two-figure values of exports to Japan, India (48 million, +16%), Indonesia and Thailand. While exports to China, remain significant, although they have declined slightly due to the slow-down in the country’s economy (123 million, -4.8%). Another significant aspect being the even greater fall in exports from Germany to China (-17% as compared to 2014), which has however been balanced by the increase in the number of German factories in China.

South America in decline
The South American market appears to have been affected by the negative performance of Brazil (61 million, -11.7%), to which exports fell by 8.7% in 2015, and in Argentina, where the economic situation continues to be negative. However, the smaller countries of central America remain more dynamic, accounting for 1% of Italian export (less than 20 million). As for the African countries, although the Mediterranean ones remain stagnant, those of the Sahara zone are actually shrinking.
Exports to Australia (20 million) have almost doubled, although accounting for only 0.8% of the total.
In terms of type of production, extrusion lines, blow molding and flexographic printing machinery tend to be those most exported abroad.

The main importers
That the Italian market is experiencing an upturn is confirmed by the import figures, in 2015 there was a rise of 17.2% to 750 million euros. The leading foreign countries from which Italy imports technology being Germany (250 million, +19.3%), followed by China (106 million, +36.9%) and Austria (69 million, +17.1%.)
The increase in Italian imports has been accounted for by injection molding machines (98 million euros, +20.2%), two thirds of which of German and Austrian origin (equally divided), while Italian companies have purchased machines from Japan to the tune of approximately 13 million euros; the value of imports from China is negligible (about one million).
While in the import classification charts compiled by Assocomaplast, extruders are in second place (23 million, +23.1%), coming from Germany (45% of the total) and Austria (23%), and the flexographic printers in third, with an import figure of over 24 million euros (+29.9%), 55% from Germany and 15% from Switzerland. Molding machinery accounts for no less than 40% of the total import figure (293 million, +9.9%), purchased from German and Chinese suppliers (75 million and 62 million respectively).
In short, Italian companies import molds, injection machines, flexographic printers and extruders from Germany; they buy molds from China, while Austria supplies them with injection machines and molds, while Switzerland provide them with molds, thermo-forming machines, injection machines and flexographic printers. Italian firms also import molds from the Czech Republic, where various manufacturer are based, some of which non-European.

Auxiliary products positive, machinery negative
The results the three year analysis made by Assocomaplast shows that the Italian export situation in relation to primary processing machines is still very delicate, while the export trends of the auxiliary machine market is more dynamic. A closer look into the market of injection molding, blow molding and extruder machines reveals, that the reduced foreign sales can be mainly attributed to the drop of sales of injection machines to the United Kingdom, Poland and Iran. A loss in the market share of extruders in Russia, Saudi Arabia and India, and a slowdown in sales of blow molding machines to Russia and Brazil. As far as flexographic printers are concerned following the difficulties experienced in 2008, things are now moving again, reaching a figure of 157 million in 2015, mainly destined to the USA, Spain and Poland.
60% of the total Italian export figure is accounted for by Germany (molds), the USA, Poland, France (molds, extruders and flexographic printers), and China (extruders, molds, thermoforming machines and blow molding machines).

The upturn of the Eurozone
Italian production output in 2015 featured a weak and intermittent growth trend, according to ISTAT (Italy’s national statistics institute) figures, it reached a value of 93.5 (base 100 = 2010), the figure at the start of the year being of 90.4. In fact towards the end of the year manufacturing companies were having difficulty in maintaining the pickup, as confirmed by the GDP growth estimates for 2016 prepared by the Ministry for the Economy.
According to ISTAT, the GDP of the Eurozone should increase at a rate of 0.4% a quarter, thanks to growth in domestic demand. A gradual growth in investments is also envisaged, thanks to a greater exploitation of production capacity, prompted by low loan costs. The world trade organization predicts a growth in global business of 2.8% in 2016, in line with 2015 and as the result of continuing upturn in demand from Asian economies, the potential for reaching a figure of +3.6% in 2017.

The highs and lows of the future
Italian export should be aided by a weak Euro, with political and economic events making their impact, thereby making medium-long term forecasts difficult. This uncertainty also being due to other factors such as Britain’s exit from the EU and the ongoing Russian sanctions. Assocomaplast, also notes that further uncertainty is caused by the slowdown in the Chinese economy and the political turbulence in Brazil, a country in which Italy has made heavy investments. The situation in Iran needs to be assessed following the re-scaling of sanctions which last year brought exports figures to a value of 13 million euros. Expectations are optimistic for the USA, Mexico and Argentina in which the local producers are making considerable use of European manufacturer.