Column number 85 – 2022

Nice to meet you, and is not a cliché. After two years of pandemic, more than three months of war in Europe: geopolitical scenarios change quite rapidly and generate economic and social changes that are difficult to understand, let alone anticipate. For companies, these are complex moments: if there were not a war that threatens the heart of Europe, there would be hardly any complaints. In the end, machine tool orders in the first quarter of 2022 fell, but only slightly, while the growth of exports outside the European Community showed encouraging growth. However, the uncertainty due mainly to three factors weighs heavily on the best first quarter of the last three years: the war and the resulting economic sanctions, which have cut out a decidedly large market; the resurgence of the pandemic in China and the Far East, which is blocking trade; the increase in energy and transport costs, the impact of which has not yet been fully felt, but which will undoubtedly have significant effects in the near future also on the steel and machine tools sector.

Speaking of steel, the first signs of fibrillation in the sector can be read in the companies’ request to the European Community to review the protectionist measures in force since 2018: these are drastic actions that, in over three years of operation, have put the companies in difficulty. Now, together with the sanctions against Russia and Belarus and the disappearance of the Ukrainian market, they have made life very difficult for operators who ask Europe not to forget them between the anvil of duties and the hammer of sanctions. A new approach, says the Director General of Cecimo, Filip Geerts, would be of capital importance to ensure European competitiveness, already severely tested by the costs of energy and the difficulties in procuring some materials following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The general economic climate among CECIMO machine tool manufacturers remains positive, reaching 23% of the positive percentage balance in the first quarter of 2022. Considering all the factors that currently influence entrepreneurial activity, such as the shortage of skilled labor, the shortage of raw materials, delivery constraints, uncertainty caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war and rising energy prices, machine tool manufacturers still expect the general economic climate to remain positive in the second quarter of 2022 (+4 %).

After the cancellation of the 2020 edition, the most important fair in the sector is back on the unusual date of the end of June. Tube will take place in Düsseldorf from 20th to 25th June with a good participation of exhibitors and a barely noticeable decrease in the exhibition area: dedicated to the themes of the green economy, Tube will be the first real opportunity to meet in person after years spent in front of the computer screen : for all, the wait is only slightly masked by the ostentatious affectation of normality. There will be no large companies, cut off from a conflict that always hovers in every area of ​​our daily activities, there will be a little lack of habit, and perhaps it will also be a bit strange to find ourselves after such a long time, we will be rusty in moving around the fair, they will also miss many people who have disappeared due to Covid-19.

The best wish, however, remains to finally meet in the aisles of a fair, and what a fair. It will be a pleasure to see you and, for once, it will not be a cliché.

Column number 84 – 2022

What to say? There was really a need for it. After the pandemic, or perhaps it is even better to say “during a pandemic”, the war. From a strictly industrial point of view, the transition to the contemporary age has caused an inversion of the role of war in development: if, up to the Second World War, wars had, as a side effect, a decisive technological progress, just think of the development of the jet or rocket engine, from the Korean War onwards the war has always been a chasm into which human lives, entire existences and also incalculable quantities of raw materials, resources and economic potential have been thrown.

The war in Ukraine fits perfectly into this vein of senseless destruction: if, according to an old definition, war is the nation-state version of aggression for the purpose of robbery, in this case, whatever the final spoils, there are strong doubts that the game is worth the candle, given the amount of lives and resources inexorably thrown into the cauldron of conflict. According to estimates by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the war in Ukraine will cost the world one point of GDP, about $ 1 trillion. Sanctions on Russia alone will cost 22 billion of euros to Italy due to the decline in exports, especially as regards luxury items, machine tools and technological products, not to mention the difficulties due to increases in raw materials and energy. There are over 300 Italian companies that have commercial relations with Russia, the 14th trading partner in the world.

As for the European Community, the value of exported goods is 79 billion euros, while imports amount to 95.3 billion. Despite the sanctions following the war in Donbass and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which caused a reduction in Russian exports by more than 50 billion euros per year between 2010 and 2020, the European Union remains the first trading partner of Russia. In short, if for the whole of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century for a large part of the industry, war could be a resource for development, increase in turnover and technology, in the twenty-first century it became a bad investment, except for the companies of the defense, and even for them up to a certain point. In fact, the costs of a war are too high for one to think that it will last long enough to make it an excellent deal: in the short term, peace is much more profitable. Now that the worst of the pandemic seemed to be over, a conflict restricted from a military point of view but on a global scale as regards the economic consequences risks stifling in the bud the recovery which, thanks to the measures of NextGenerationEU, was taking on decidedly marked characters, with a GDP growing between 4 and 7% in the Euro area. Just over a month of conflict has caused estimates to drop to around 2%, also following the disproportionate increases in energy costs.

Squeezed between the decline in exports and the increase in costs, manufacturing is struggling in search of solutions that are not yet seen on the horizon: if, on the one hand, the cost of gas had already increased for the industry in January of 423% compared to 2018, on the other hand 2021 had marked a record figure, both at European and Italian level, with a very rapid recovery compared to the black crisis of 2020.

And now? Now we hold on: the contracts signed in 2021, fulfilled in the first and second quarter of 2022, will not necessarily be able to take into account the increase in production costs for machine tools. And also for the future, the adjustment of prices to the new costs, both of the raw material, steel, produced by energy-intensive companies such as steel mills, and of the energy used for production, does not appear to be a viable path, even for large competition on the market that leverages the final price. We hold on and hopefully for the best: the rows of the Tube in Dusseldorf, we are sure, will all be rumored: whoever finds the solution to this equation with too many variables will have secured a place in the market of the future.

Column number 83 – 2021

Positive outlook for European economy gives back a significant contrast with fears for worldwide increasing pandemic. The positive trend in machine tools sector during 2021 is extremely encouraging: recent data indicates that CECIMO’s MT output in 2021 is expected to grow at an annual rate of about 11.5%, reaching 22.5 billion euros in 2021. With a share of about 33%, CECIMO countries will maintain the number 1 position in the global MT market. Despite the uncertainty in pandemic, there is need of normality that develops itself in a fibrillation in economy and industry, with the decisive effects coming from economic contribution from governments, aimed at a compensative trend to negative effects of various lockdowns.

These are, in general, the best perspectives that design a good framework for Tube 2022, that will be held in Düsseldorf from May 9th to 13th, and remains the outstanding event for tube sector. After the postponement and following cancellation of 2020 edition, the growth of the MT sector gave impetus to the new edition that has already acquired the participation of a large number among the main companies. The European market in MT sector is pulled up by export: Total MT exports and MT imports to increase by 12% and 13% retrospectively on a year-over-year basis. Germany, Italy and Switzerland remain the major CECIMO exporters and the two major MT export destinations outside Europe are China and the United States. Japan, China and the Taiwan region remain the major MT supplying markets for CECIMO countries (outside Europe). It is important to underline that the effects of a rough rise of pandemic can have a deep impact on the forecast for 2022: the uncertainty of new virus variants and new measures issued by governments can change the situation and slower the growth. Another critical element are supplies: supply chain denotates many bottlenecks and the growth of the quotation for scrap is indicative in this sense.

In Italy, the growth is faster than in every other European country: in 2021 production reached 6,325 million euro, marking a 22.1% upturn compared with the previous year. The outcome was due to the excellent trend of Italian manufacturers’ deliveries in the domestic market, increased by 27.8% to 2,965 million euro, as well as to the positive performance of exports, achieving 3,360 million euro, i.e. 17.4% more than in the previous year. This trend should continue even in 2022, the year when all the ground lost in 2020 should be recovered. With a double-sided expectations for the near future, we face a holidays period easier than one year ago: economic trends and vaccination campaign give us the idea of a more positive overall situation. If one year ago we were in a negative moment with many expectations for the future, now the feeling is of a positive situation with some remaining shadows. And it is already a good result. From the editorial staff, the management and myself, I want to send you, everywhere you are and everything you are doing, the best wishes of serenity and joy for the holidays and new year: I hope to see you all in 2022, stronger and safer than ever, with more confidence in the future and in an economic growth that will take everyone out of the crisis.

Column number 82 – 2021

Incredible, but true. After many postponements and numerous cancellations, the fairs restart. Always a fundamental driver of marketing and sales in the machine tool and tube sector, trade fairs, although they are experiencing a moment of serious identity crisis following the improvement of remote multimedia tools, always represent a fundamental appointment: they, constitute an irreplaceable moment for the encounter between people, to see and touch the news first-hand, to build relationships.

It is incredible how the health emergency, while contributing in a decisive way to the launch of remote communication tools, their implementation and their improvement, has made it clear to us that personal communication needs to be present, otherwise, to when fed at a distance, it ends up by extinguishing itself and being supplanted by new habits, more linked to the physical universe and decidedly less to the virtual one.

Similarly, a further effect of the pandemic is that travel is now much more complex and difficult: tampons, quarantines, different practices from country to country that closely resemble the rules for expatriation and customs of the past. If thirty years ago to travel you needed a visa, document control, passport, with all the resulting difficulties and hitches, today it is necessary to have a green pass and, in many cases, even a tampon in the last 48 hours. Not to mention the increase in costs over the past two years.

Ergo: it is easier and more convenient to travel once and go to a fair than to travel more frequently for shorter periods to visit suppliers or see the machines in showrooms rather than in companies that have already purchased them.

Hence, fairs resume their central role, or will resume it shortly, if the conditions listed above will remain stable for some time.

We confess, we are quite curious to see what will happen to EMO and Made in Steel which will be held in Milan at the beginning of October: of course, the companies that have joined and will be present are not really many, but it is natural after the trauma of last 18 months. The curiosity concerns the visitors: how many and, above all, from which countries.

The restart of the exhibition sector is one of the great challenges of the machine tool sector and the steel supply chain: the game is still to be played but in recent months many matches have already been won. This is demonstrated by the numbers of a recovery that appears increasingly solid and that has already almost reached pre-pandemic levels. Of course, the recovery of all that was lost in 18 months, in terms of jobs, market positioning, revenue, will still be a long affair, but the encouraging signs are all there.

As for our magazine, if you want we can meet in Milan. We will be present with a stand in hall 5, lane A n. 23. We are waiting for you!


Column number 81 – 2021

The recovery of markets and production continues, even if the situation linked to the pandemic still causes considerable uncertainty as to how solid this recovery is actually. In spite of the lock-downs of last winter and spring 2021, of the forecasts of further restrictions related to the Delta variant, the machine tool sector is showing optimism, in a growth curve that has now lasted for several quarters.

At a European level, the machine tool industry is experiencing a moment of particular enthusiasm, not only from the point of view of production, but also from the point of view of orders which, during the first quarter of 2021, have seen growth both in terms of of the previous quarter, and compared to the same quarter of the year 2020. If in the latter case the growth was almost predictable, even if at the European level the lock-downs in 2020 took place between the beginning of March and April, that is, between the first and second quarters, the growth compared to the already positive fourth quarter of 2020 marks a point of particular optimism and positivity in the sector. Optimism and positivity that apply both to orders on the domestic market, which increased by 47% compared to the first quarter of 2020, and to those on the foreign market, which grew by 31%. Orders are also growing in Italy: in the first quarter of 2021, orders for machine tools from Italian manufacturers return to growth. In particular, the UCIMU index, prepared by the Association’s Centro Studi Cultura di Impresa, shows, in the first three months of the year, an increase of 48.6% compared to the same period of 2020. In absolute value, the index is is attested to 169 (base 100 in 2015).

The overall result was mainly determined by the excellent performance of manufacturers on the domestic market. On the domestic front, in fact, the Italian manufacturers report an increase in orders of 157.9% compared to the same period of the previous year. The absolute value of the index stood at 195.5. On the foreign front, orders grew by 30.5% compared to the period January-March 2020. The absolute value of the index stood at 155. Still at a European level, the industrial production index has returned to pre-crisis levels, another important sign of absolute positivity.

Another element of great importance that is still lacking in the global industrial landscape, beyond the possibility of moving easily for reasons of work and commerce, and directly connected to this, is the restart of the exhibition activity. There are events of great importance on the exhibition scene: in October it is time for Made In Steel, the event of the steel supply chain which in the spring was always postponed due to the pandemic; in November it is the turn of EMO, one of the world’s largest machine tool fairs that this year will see its stage in Milan, as part of the rotation with Hanover. These are two fundamental moments, which we will discuss in detail in the next issue, which should give the definitive signal to restart also for a sector that has suffered particularly in the last 18 months and which in history has represented a fundamental vehicle for promotion, marketing and sales.