Another positive year for the wood technology industry, although the trend survey for the last quarter arises some questions that should be taken into consideration…
2018 PRELIMINARY BALANCE
Again this year we can say that “…the barometer for woodworking and furniture industry machinery and plants keeps pointing to nice weather“. We used the same expression at the end of 2017, which closed with 11.6 percent growth over 2016, and we are repeating it this year to tell you about an excellent 9.5 percent growth recorded by production in the past twelve months compared to 2017. All economic variables analyzed by the Studies office of Acimall, the Confindustria association that represents industry companies, indicate that 2018 was another positive year. Production reached 2.487 billion euro (resulting into the 9.5 growth mentioned above, from 2.27 billion in 2017) and also export increased (1.694 billion euro, up by 6.5 percent). Another sign that the Italian industry using technology for wood and wood-based materials is going through a good season comes from import, at 239 million euro, 27.9 percent more than 187 million in 2017. The trade balance is also positive (1.455 billion euro, plus 3.8 percent). More in general, we can say that the woodworking machinery industry closed another year of consolidation, certainly supported by government incentives to investments in production technology and Industry 4.0.
FOURTH QUARTER 2018
Optimism seemed to fade out partially in the final quarter 2018, with figures indicating a slight slowdown in orders of Italian equipment and technology. The Italian market was still lively, scoring an excellent 17.9 percent growth over Q4 2017, but this performance was offset by foreign orders decreasing by 13.6 percent, which means that the grand total for the October-December 2018 period is minus 3.2 percent. So, while Italy still shows a plus sign, the increasing uncertainty on the international scenario (Brexit and US-China trade relations above all) seems to be suggesting more caution to international investors. This adds to the fact that revenues in the fourth quarter 2018 were largely positive compared to the same period of 2017, with an excellent plus 19.2 percent; this figure has a significant impact on 2018 overall results, as mentioned before. Looking at the other data of the survey by the Confindustria-member association, we can see that the orders book, i.e. months of secured production, is 3.7 months (versus 4 in the previous quarter) and price variation across 2018 was 1.1 percent, the same value as in 2017. Another interesting piece of information comes from the quality survey, i.e. the opinion poll about production trends: 38 percent of the interviewees expect a positive trend, 56 percent see substantial stability ahead, and 6 percent believe that business will shrink.
And what about the future? As already mentioned, there are plenty of hints that feed worries for short-term developments. Uncertainty dominates the domestic market after the reduction of fiscal incentives for Industry 4.0 initiatives introduced in the 2019 Budget Law, combined with the reduction of tax credit on R&D investments and the elimination of the super-amortization mechanism. Export markets are subject to the outcomes of Brexit and China-US trade wars. So, summing up, 6 percent of the sample believe in the further expansion of the domestic market, while 63 percent expect substantial stability and 31 percent shrinking business (the balance is negative at minus 25). On the export side, 19 percent are optimistic, 18 percent pessimistic and 63 percent forecast stability (final balance plus 1).