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European construction equipment industry was stable and resilient in 2020

Sales on the European construction equipment market went down by 6.4 percent in 2020. This seemingly modest drop is due to the performance of high-volume light and compact equipment, whose sales were almost unaffected at -3 percent.

In contrast, heavy construction machinery suffered a 19 percent fall in sales, in what emerged as a challenging year. Indeed, less expensive machines were sold at almost normal levels during the pandemic, while investment in more capital-intensive equipment suffered from the economic uncertainty. 

These economic figures are the result of a combination of anticipated cyclical downturn after years of growth and a slowdown in business activity due to the COVID pandemic.

Unlike earlier years, earthmoving equipment, road equipment, concrete equipment, and the tower cranes business experienced similar market patterns, despite the impact of stronger sales of light equipment.

Presenting the report to the press, CECE President Niklas Nillroth focused on the positive aspects of last year's results and this year's expected outcome.

"As we all know, 2020 was the most unexpected and unpredictable of years. From an economic point of view, it represented a year of disruptions with certainties and forecasts crumbling before our eyes. However, as you will see in our report, the construction and industrial sectors in Europe have shown a great amount of resilience and capability to rebound quickly, limiting the damages of the first semester. The foreseeable boost in construction and infrastructure activities from the European Recovery Plan represents another reason to remain optimistic for the near future," said Nillroth.

2020 began in line with expectations, with a 5 percent market decline in the first quarter - a cyclical downturn that had been anticipated. However, in the second quarter, lockdowns across Europe began to take their toll and pushed the market to 28 percent below the levels of the previous year. 

The decline in sales in Q2 also reflected the impact of the comparison with the quarter in 2019 when the bauma exhibition was held, and the usual short-term boost in sales from it. With relaxation of lockdown measures in Q3, sales reached similar levels as 2019 and were flat year- on-year. The last quarter of the year saw the expected improvement in demand, and sales in Europe went up by 9 percent. This also reflected the benefit of business postponed in the first half of the year materializing in Q4.

From a geographical perspective, market sales in most countries reflected the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns, but there were a few exceptions. Most notably, the Italian market reached the same level of sales as 2019, and the Turkish market recovered from its 2019 crash.

A forecast of 5 percent growth in the European equipment market is a realistic assessment of prospects for 2021. However, against a background of continued uncertainty and high absolute levels of sales, even a flat market in 2021 would not be a disappointment. The world market is also likely to show moderate growth in 2021, but the volatility of the Chinese market and its significant influence on the overall outcome means that it is difficult to quote reliable figures for overall global growth levels. In the medium term, the construction equipment industry faces many substantial risks. One of them are higher debts in many countries that will become a problem, as public infrastructure investments will suffer when austerity measures must be put in place.

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