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Italian ceramics industry back at pre-crisis levels, investments booming 

by Ilaria Vesentini

You would need to turn back to 2008 to find similar production levels in the Italian ceramics industry as those achieved last year: 415 million square meters of fabricated tiles, up 5.4% compared to 2015 and about 50 million square meters more compared to a difficult year in 2009. And there is no trace in the last twenty years of the boom of investments put in place by Italian ceramicists in 2016: €400.4 million, up 14% compared to 2015, the third consecutive record increase.

“And this year, in light of the incentives from the government, a further acceleration is viewed as certain in the process of renewal and repositioning of our manufacturing, which is steering decisively toward the 4.0 ceramic factory model,” said Vittorio Borelli, president of Confindustria Ceramica, previewing the figures of the 2016 statistical investigation presented yesterday afternoon at the annual members’ assembly.

Sales of “Made in Italy” tiles are also growing at double the rate compared to the dynamic of recent years. They have risen 4.5% in volume terms and +5.9% in value (average prices have also risen), to reach a total of €5.417 billion. The jump forward concerned both exports (worth 85% of total revenues, or €4.59 billion, +6.3% versus 2015) as well as domestic sales (€829 million, +3.7%).

These are numbers that show “the end of the glacial era that started in 2009 for our sector and a new context of confidence, that we owe to the introduction in 2011 of antidumping duties, without which we would have remained crushed by unfair imports from China,” said the director of Confindustria Ceramica, Armando Cafiero, “and without which today we would not be here investing in technology with this intensity.”

This explains the attention that the ceramics industry is focusing on the re-examination of the anti-dumping procedure in Brussels, which should conclude by September and lead to the five-year renewal of the measures, which in the last five year period made it possible to reduce Chinese imports by 77%.

“The Italian market is confirming the inversion in the trend, even if the 83 million square meters of tiles that it absorbs are less than half of the of the 170 million pre- crisis level,” said Borelli. “But our optimism is driven by the positive tone of all indicators, including the end to the employment hemorrhage (19,000 workers in the 147 tile companies) as well as the already sold-out 35th Cersaie international tile exhibition which will open in Bologna on September 25.”

In a generally positive context of recovery in gross domestic product and world trade and of recovery in the domestic construction market, concerns remain linked to the dead weight of bills for high energy businesses like ceramics, which face a competitive gap due to general system obligations such as electricity. “We have been asking for a while now for the adjustment of article 39 to include a trade intensity parameter,” said the president.

Along with the Made in Italy tiles, other factors that should be added up are data from ceramic production carried out in 16 foreign factories owned by Italian companies between North America and Europe (85 million square meters and €856 million revenues) as well as €776 million turnover linked to the production of sanitary and kitchen ceramics and heat resistant materials, the other sectors represented by Confindustria Ceramica. They are all performing positively, taking the total turnover of the sector to more than €7 billion.