Global sales of construction equipment such as bulldozers, diggers and dump trucks are expected to expand in 2017 after five years of shrinkage, according to Off-Highway Research, a consulting firm.
Machinery manufacturers including Caterpillar of the US and the UK’s JCB have been hit since 2012 by falling demand, which is rooted in China’s economic slowdown and the negative impact this has had on industries including construction and mining.
The consultancy said unit sales should increase 5 per cent next year, based on on analysis of data from about 1,500 interviews with machinery manufacturers and dealers.Off-Highway Research is expecting a rebound in global unit sales of construction machines in 2017, driven by the gradual replacement of ageing vehicles and its prediction of an improvement in commodity prices.
The construction machines business, which generated $78.3bn in revenue last year, has shrunk by almost a quarter in dollar terms since peaking in 2011.
Off-Highway Research said China’s deepening economic slowdown and falling commodity prices were responsible for unit sales of construction equipment declining 17 per cent last year to 685,536.
With sales shrinkage in North America and Japan in 2015, the only major markets to record increases in unit terms were Europe and India.
“[The year] 2015 was worse than expected for the global construction equipment industry,” said David Phillips, managing director of Off-Highway Research.
“Emerging markets were generally weak — the only significant exception being India — and developed regions of the world were not strong enough to offset the painful declines we saw in countries such as China.”
Sales of equipment in China tripled between 2007 and 2011 in dollar terms, when the country accounted for four in every 10 construction machines bought.
But since then, weaker building activity means that unit sales last year were down 72 per cent compared with 2011.
While this has hit Chinese machinery manufacturers such as Sany and XCMG, which face inventory and factory overcapacity, the effects have also been felt by Sweden’s Volvo and Komatsu of Japan.
Caterpillar last year warned it could cut up to 10,000 jobs by 2018 as the company forecast a fourth year of falling sales.
“Very few companies around the world are as profitable as they were three or four years ago — largely because of the downturn in China,” said Mr Phillips.
“When it comes, the recovery is likely to be gradual, reflecting weak business confidence and the uncertain geopolitical outlook around the world.”
Off-Highway Research is predicting a 3 per cent decline in global unit sales of construction machines this year.
Alongside weak demand, another problem for machinery manufacturers is the large number of idle vehicles that can be sold second hand for much lower prices compared with brand new.