Domestic orders were down by 12 per cent, while export orders remained stable at the preceding year’s level. Since the beginning of this year, order bookings have fallen by 11 per cent compared to the first nine months of 2011: domestic orders by 8 per cent, export orders by 12 per cent.
“The fall in demand over the course of the year has so far proceeded in line with expectations”, is how Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Executive Director of the sectoral organisation VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association) in Frankfurt am Main, comments on the figures. Inside the triad, America reports rising order levels, driven primarily by the USA. There is substantial investment ongoing here, not least from the automotive industry and the aviation sector. Asia, by contrast, is returning to business as normal following its high growth rates of recent years. In China, the largest of the markets, demand has cooled down temporarily, because financial policies have been tightened, and small or mid-tier customers, in particular, are finding it more difficult to get financing for their investments. Western Europe, finally, has been ailing, due to the now-familiar risks. Only Eastern Europe, and here principally Russia, are still offering some rays of hope.
Domestic orders, conversely, were until the middle of the year performing better than their export counterparts, fuelled primarily by project business involving press technology. “In the two most recent months, by contrast, our biggest customer grouping, the automotive industry, had put its foot firmly on the brake pedal, and is postponing capital investment projects with its component suppliers”, reports Wilfried Schäfer. This, he continued, is also showing up in the orders for machine tools. Nonetheless, demand in Germany has held up significantly better so far than in other European nations.
Machine tool production output, according to the official figures provisionally announced, rose by another 12 per cent during the year’s first nine months. The German machine tool industry is accordingly confident of exceeding previous expectations. “Against the background of the order trends, a continuingly high order backlog of more than eight months with practically complete capacity utilisation, the VDW is upping its production output forecast for 2012 from its previous 6 to 8 per cent”, says Schäfer. This would correspond to sales of almost 14 billion euros, approaching the record figure of 2008.
The largely stable situation has also showed up beneficially in the employment figures. In August of this year, they showed around 68,640 employees, 4.5 per cent up on the preceding year’s level.
The German machine tool industry ranks among the five largest sectors in the country’s mechanical engineering segment. It supplies production technologies for metalworking applications to all categories of manufacturer, and makes a crucial contribution towards progressing innovation and productivity in the industrial sector overall. Due to its absolutely key position for industrial production output, its development is also an important indicator for the economic vigour of the country’s industrial sector as a whole. In 2011, the German machine tool industry produced machines and services worth around 13 billion euros, and was employing 67,800 people (status: December 2011, firms with more than 20 staff). This corresponded to growth of 31 per cent.
Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Executive Director of the VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association), Frankfurt am Main, Germany
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Graphics: Order bookings and sales in the German machine tool industry