Slower Machine Tool Orders Dampen EU Forecast

Demand for new orders weakening after strong 2011

VDW, the German Machine Tool Builders’ Association, reported its members’ new orders fell 4% for the fourth quarter of 2011, versus the last quarter of 2010. It was the first quarterly decline in two years, it said. The result confirms recent forecasts of declining orders, from VDW and other machine-tool builders groups in Europe and the U.S. Similarly, UCIMU (the Association of Italian Manufacturers of Machine Tools, Robots, Automation Systems and Ancillary Products) in late January reported Q4 2011 machine tools orders fell 12.4% over the like period of 2010.

However, both groups emphasized the data showing a sustained recovery of the machine tool sector from the recession 2009.

The full-year 2011 U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report from AMTDA, the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association and AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology has not been released. Through November 2011, the results of that monthly study indicated a strong year-on-year showing, though officials acknowledged that weakening demand was likely to result in reduced volumes of new orders in the early months of 2012.

VDW reported domestic orders were 2% over the Q4 2011 result, though bookings from abroad fell by 7%. “December is responsible for the decrease in the year’s fourth quarter, with a minus figure for the first time in 25 months,” executive director Dr. Wilfried Schäfer.

The full-year results for VDW were more impressive. Overall demand rose 45% in 2011, VDW said, with demand from German customers up by 46% versus the full year of 2010, and from foreign customers up by 45%.

VDW also reported its members’ production of machine tools rose by 33% in 2011, indicating it was the highest increase ever recorded, and capacity utilization averaged 93.8% for the year. The average for order backlogs was 9.3 months. Noting these results, VDW predicted a 5% increase in production output for 2012.

Notwithstanding the strong results, VDW expects weak domestic demand to dampen prospects for the coming year. “For this reason alone, growth is going to be slowing down this year,” Schäfer stated.

The Italian machine tool builders group said its members’ total 2011 domestic new orders fell 11.9%, while foreign orders rose 20.9%. Data showed most of the foreign orders came from China, Germany, the U.S., and Brazil, among several other countries. “In the light of this data,” according to UCIMU president Giancarlo Losma, “there are two considerations clearly emerging. First of all we do not believe that the slowdown recorded in this last quarter anticipates a new period of difficulty. Currently there are no elements demonstrating an inversion in trend, and therefore the start of a new negative cycle for the Italian machine tools, robots and automation industry. On the contrary one fact shows the level of efficiency that characterizes the industries of the sector: the index of production capacity that, in the fourth quarter of the year, reached 80%.”

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