MILAN — The Italian eyewear industry is assessing the impact of the coronavirus emergency as data released on Wednesday by the national association of eyewear manufacturers Anfao outline a difficult moment for the sector.
In 2019, sales derived from Italian eyewear production totaled 3.99 billion euros, up 3.3 percent compared to the previous year. In particular, exports were up 3.9 percent to 3.88 billion euros compared to 2018, accounting for more than 90 percent of total production.
Projections for this year show exports are expected to drop 25 percent, production value to decrease 15 percent and sales in the domestic market to shrink 10 percent compared to 2019.
In the first quarter of the year, exports dropped 17.7 percent, or by 200 million euros, compared to the same period last year. Although exports were still up 2.9 percent and in sync with last year’s performance in January, the following month the limitations in the Asian market started to cause a 3.8 percent decrease in performance, which climbed to 43.6 percent in March.
China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan represent 7.7 percent of total exports for the industry, accounting for around 300 million euros a year in value. These are also the main sources of raw materials and semi-finished products for Italian companies, as they account for 64 percent of total imports. Therefore, before being affected by the COVID-19 restrictions in their own regions, Italian eyewear manufacturers had already been impacted by the crisis as they had to look for different suppliers and, those with plants in China, suspend production.
Forecasts for the rest of the year show exports will continue to perform negatively, with the first half of 2020 registering a 40 percent drop, resulting in a loss of 850 million euros in value compared to the same period in 2019.
In a hypothetical scenario with no new outbreaks of the virus and a recovery in the second half of the year, exports would be down 7 percent, or about 130 million euros less than 2019.
“We’ve been very cautions in these forecasts, after all the sentiment we’re receiving from our companies doesn’t allow us to be more optimistic,” said Anfao’s president Giovanni Vitaloni. “We know it’s a difficult situation for the whole country and therefore we are aligned with the overall demand of really efficient measures to support the economy and consumer spending,” he continued. He also noted the association has proposed to implement a voucher to encourage the purchase of optical frames.
To wit, in the domestic market, eyewear sales dropped 30 percent in March and 80 percent in April due to the lockdown that froze Italy for over two months.
Although eyewear manufacturers and stores were allowed to be open during the lockdown, since the category is considered an essential business for producing personal protective equipment, the lack of demand significantly impacted both companies and retailers.
“Many companies still had to request the ‘cassa integrazione’ wage support measure because orders from abroad suddenly zeroed and the opticians who decided to keep the business running did it to respond almost exclusively to urgent cases of eyeglasses breaking,” said Vitaloni, who also helms the Milan-based Mido eyewear trade show.
The fair was another casualty of the health crisis. Initially slated to run from Feb. 29 to March 2, the event was first postponed to July 5 to 7 and then canceled. Next year, Mido will run Feb. 6 to 8, moving up its usual dates to help boost orders.
The industry showed resilience in the past. Last year the sector performed positively despite geo-political and economic instability, including general commercial tensions with China, Brexit and a more cautious approach to consumer spending in France and Italy.
In addition to the production value, in 2019 the number of companies and employees grew 1.4 percent to 879 firms and 2.3 percent to 18,082 workers, respectively.
Imports were up 6.7 percent to 1.35 billion euros while, in terms of exports, Italy accounted for over 20 percent of global exports of sunglasses and optical frames, which registered 19 billion euros last year.
In particular, Europe accounted for almost half of the Italian eyewear companies’ export activity, while the Americas and Asia accounted for 33 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Exports to the U.S. grew 6.7 percent last year, confirming the country’s leading position as a destination for Italian eyewear. Due to a slowdown in internal consumption, exports to France and the U.K. were down 3 and 7.9 percent, respectively, while they grew 8 percent in Germany last year.