MILAN—Sales figures for Italian rubber and plastics processing machinery for the first three quarters of 2019 suggest a negative year-end result, according to trade association Amaplast.
Citing foreign trade data released by the Italian National Statistical Institute (ISTAT), the trade body said imports of plastics and rubber machinery plunged 13.1 percent year-on-year to about $716 million from January through Sepetember.
Exports fell 8.5 percent to about $2.4 billionn, the trade association added in its Jan. 8 statement.
While the balance of trade remains positive, posting a surplus of more $1.6 billion, that figure dropped by six percentage points, Amaplast added.
The trade association cited the current world economic climate as well as "the announced but as yet poorly defined" legislative and fiscal measures aimed at reducing the use of plastics as the reasons for the slowdown.
For the full year, Amaplast expects the Italian market for plastics and rubber machinery, equipment and molds to remain depressed "across the board".
In total, the trade body expects declines in production by 9 percent, exports by 8 percent and imports by 15 percent.
Breaking down the nine-month results, Amaplast noted a 20 percent decline in exports to Germany.
Nonetheless, the country held on to its position as the top destination for Italian machinery, with imports of more than $299 million.
The U.S. also maintained its second position, with a 15 percent rise in imports valued at about $247 million
Spain moved up three spots to take over the third position with about $124 million in machinery imports, followed by China and Poland.
With a 30 percent decline, Turkey lost its spot among the top 10 importers of Italian machinery, having been replaced by India.
"(The decline) for Turkey is not particularly surprising, given the country's uncertain economic situation and the poor performance of the local converting industry," Amaplast said.
The devaluation of the Turkish lira since August 2018 also contributed to the fall.
Looking further down in the rankings, neighbors Austria and Switzerland registered declines of 24 percent and 28 percent, respectively
Russia recorded a further 19 percent slide in imports, while Brazil showed a weak 1 percent improvement.
In Asia, encouraging sales trends were witnessed in the two major markets of Thailand and Indonesia, which reported growths of 24 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
At the same time, sales to the key Asian market of South Korea fell 31 percent, Amaplast added.
In Africa, Tunisia showed a 57 percent improvement in imports, while Morocco and Algeria registered declines of 11 percent and 38 percent. South Africa recorded a modest 2 percent growth.
In the Middle East, demand for Italian machinery rose 33 percent in Saudi Arabia and 86 percent in the United Arab Emirates, but declined significantly—by 64 percent—in Iran.
In terms of machinery imports into Italy, European partners generally registered a downward trend, with Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland posting declines of 30 percent, 13 percent, 30 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
China and Japan, on the other hand, grew their exports to Italy by 14 percent and 33 percent.
"Speaking with my colleagues in the machinery manufacturing industry… I note a certain amount of concern deriving from the less-than-encouraging prospects for both the domestic and foreign markets," Amaplast President Dario Previero said in a statement.
On an upbeat note, Previero said the slump had followed seven years of strong growth, during which companies were able to invest in research and development. It also allows them to focus on the development of advanced solutions.
The industry veteran said he could not comment on whether the slowdown was a result of a cyclical recession or a structural weakening of the sector.
"It is mainly the diffuse uncertainty—economic, political, commercial—that induces an increasingly marked tendency in our customers to reduce or defer investment," Previero said.