MILAN — Italy’s eyewear industry is relying on exports to the U.S. and Europe, despite ongoing political uncertainties, terrorist attacks, Brexit and restrictive currency strategies, to balance a lackluster domestic performance in a country weighed down by unemployment and lack of investment.
ANFAO, Italy’s eyewear industry association, reported a 3.6 percent growth in value in the sector’s exports in the January to June period this year. This was considered “normal,” compared with the three previous years, which posted a double-digit growth rate in exports, setting historical records. Frames in the period registered a 4.3 percent increase in value, while sunglasses were up 3.2 percent.
The performance in the first half was expected, said Giovanni Vitaloni, president of ANFAO. “Paradoxically in a general economic moment that seems to have definitely overcome the crisis, eyewear grows less than other sectors. In reality, this can be explained by the fact that we have reacted better and earlier to the crisis. We have positive years behind us, with really important, double-digit growth rates in exports that are now clearly more difficult to sustain.”
Geographically, exports in the first half performed well in America, recording an 8.8 percent rise, and in Europe, where they climbed 4.2 percent. Together, America and Europe account for more than 80 percent of the sector’s exports. The U.S. is a reference market for the sector, accounting for 25 percent of the total. Sales of sun and prescription glasses together grew 7.1 percent in the U.S., while frames were up 18.6 percent. Sunglasses alone were up 3.2 percent in the region.
In Europe, exports were stable in France, edging down 0.5 percent, with a 3.4 percent increase in sunglasses and a 6.2 percent decrease in frames. Sales in the U.K. were down 4.5 percent. In particular, sunglasses were down 3.4 percent and frames decreased 7.3 percent. The association took into consideration the Brexit effect, which is seen as possibly contributing to the instability.
Sales to Germany rose 3 percent; Spain was up 3.1 percent; the Netherlands was up 8.3 percent; Portugal was up 21 percent, and Belgium was up 6.4 percent.
Conversely, exports to Asia decreased 5.7 percent.
ANFAO said Eastern Europe offers growth potential. Exports to Poland grew 20.1 percent and were up 18.2 percent in Croatia.
Vitaloni said past events, including the elections in Germany and the referendum in Catalonia, which will “surely contribute to the instability and uncertainty in Old Europe, the vivaciousness of exports in European countries different from the traditional ones surely give hope.” While these are countries that weigh little in the sector, “they prove in fact that there are still areas of growth with potential to explore.”
He also said exports have strong potential in emerging countries, which are still not significant in terms of value, “but in the first half there have been some timid signs of recovery in some countries such as China,” which was up 35.6 percent; Brazil, up 6.6 percent, and Russia, up 37.1 percent. Conversely, South Korea was down 16.8 percent.
Italy’s market showed a 1 percent increase for both sunglasses, frames and ophthalmic lenses.
Separately, Barclays on Friday issued its study on eyewear in the third quarter, when it expects “modest growth.”
“Eyewear has been disappointing this year. Luxottica has seen weak trading on the back of a number of brand-enhancing but revenue-dampening decisions (such as MAP in the U.S. and reduced promotions in retail), Essilor has been affected by fall-out from the proposed merger with Luxottica and GrandVision saw a more volatile quarterly earnings progression than expected,” stated the research. “With FX turning into a headwind and the sector rotation away from staples to discretionary, share prices have been weak. Nonetheless, it remains a sector we like long term due to increasingly predictable demand from a growing and aging population and from emerging market middle class growth. We think Q3 is likely to see a continuation of H1 trends, and we forecast organic growth of 1.5 percent at Luxottica, 5.5 percent at Essilor and 5.1 percent at GrandVision.”