Industrial districts: new record for Italian exports reached in September

In the third quarter of 2021 industrial district exports rose 9.5%, bringing the balance for the first nine months of the year to +20.5%

In the third quarter of 2021 industrial district exports were up 9.5% period-on-period, bringing the balance for the first nine months of the year to +20.5%. A new historical record was set, just below the threshold of €97 billion, 2.3% more than in the same period of 2019 when district exports were 94.8 billion.

The recovery was quite widespread: out of a total of 158 districts monitored, 98 are above the levels of the first nine months of 2019. These are important results that only partially reflect rising producer prices. Among district-intensive sectors, only Metallurgy and Goldsmiths posted sustained price increases of +20.2% and +12.4%, respectively, when compared to the first nine months of 2019.

Among the district supply chains already above pre-pandemic levels, Metallurgy (+31.2% compared to the first nine months of 2019) and Household Appliances (+25%) stand out, along with Food and Beverage (+14.1%), which had not stopped their growth trend on foreign markets even in 2020.

The performance of the Construction and Home System supply chain was also very positive, with the Furniture and Construction Products and Materials districts advancing 9.2% over 2019. Exports of Other intermediate products (up 7.5%) and Metal products (up 5.1%) also rose, while Mechanical engineering registered a slight drop (down 0.7%) and was, in any case, lower than its German competitors (-1.8%).

Positive signals also emerge for the fashion system, which showed a rebound compared to 2020, more accentuated for consumer goods, up 26.2%, and more attenuated for intermediate goods, up 11.1%. However, these performances are insufficient to allow full recovery of what was lost in 2020, especially for districts specialising in intermediate goods (-23.2%). For consumer goods manufacturers, the picture is less negative (-7.9%), thanks to a third quarter of 2021 that was very close to 2019 levels (-4%) and particularly strong performances in some important markets such as China (first and foremost Leather Goods and Apparel followed by Goldsmiths, Knitwear and Footwear), Korea (Leather Goods), the United States (Goldsmiths and Eyewear), South Africa (Goldsmiths), Poland (Footwear, Apparel and Eyewear) and the United Arab Emirates (Goldsmiths), all well above pre-Covid levels.

All district specialisations are among the top districts by increase in exports compared to 2019: the Metalmechanics supply chain with Brescia's Metals, Padua's Thermomechanics and Bergamo's Instrumental Mechanics, Vehicles with Viareggio's Shipyards, Val d'Elsa's Campers, Bologna's Mopeds, Padua and Vicenza's Bicycles, the Home System with Sassuolo's Tiles, Household Appliances from the Inox Valley, Wood and Furniture from Pordenone and Upholstered Furniture from Forlì, the Fashion System with two goldsmith centres (Goldsmiths from Arezzo and Vicenza), the Food Industry with wines from Langhe, Roero and Monferrato, Food from Parma, Sweets from Alba and Cuneo and Coffee, Confectionery and Chocolate from Turin.

At the geographical level, the Northeast stood out (+4.8% the change compared to the first nine months of 2019), showing generalised progress, led by Friuli-Venezia Giulia (+15.5%) in terms of intensity and Emilia-Romagna (+€727 million) and Veneto (+693 million) in terms of increased export values. Thanks to an excellent third quarter by the Lombard districts (+11% change compared to the same period in 2019), the Northwest also surpassed pre-Covid levels (+1.6% when compared to levels in the first nine months of 2019).

The markets in which the districts' exports recorded the greatest growth in value were, in order, Germany (+929 million compared to the January-September 2019 period), the United States (+685 million), China (+557 million), Ireland (+455 million) and Poland (+403 million). In Germany the districts specialising in Food, Electrical Appliances, Transport, Vehicles and Metalwork stood out; in the United States Food, Furniture and Fashion Consumer Goods were the driving forces; in China Fashion Consumer Goods, Metalwork and Food stood out; in Ireland, in addition to the contribution of sales in the Food and Mechanical, the opening of a logistics unit in Dublin by the leading operator in the goldsmith district of Valenza had a particular impact; in Poland growth was almost universal, particularly in the Food, Fashion Consumer Goods and Mechanical sectors.

In the latter part of 2021, district exports are believed to have maintained a good pace of growth in foreign markets. New record levels will be reached in 2021. Only the fashion industry will need more time to return to pre-pandemic values. Against this backdrop, rising commodity prices, supply disruptions, and a resurgence of the pandemic represent three points of focus that could slow the momentum of global demand in the first part of 2022, if only somewhat. Growth prospects for district exports therefore remain positive.

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