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European Micro- and Nanotechnology Industry Rules off 2009 and Moves on

Economic survey of the IVAM Microtechnology Network confirms losses in turnover, lower export shares and funding gaps. Diversification and new products are now in demand.

The impact of the ongoing economic crisis on the microtechnology, nanotechnology and advanced materials industries is expected to be less noticeable in 2010 than in the previous business year. The expectations for 2010 prove that the industry has not lost its optimism. In the second half of 2009, "excellent business" has been reported by individual companies. Due to an increasing demand from the semiconductor sector, some companies have directly changed over from short-time work to weekend shifts.

Drops in turnover, orders and production, and funding gaps reported

In total, the European microtechnology, nanotechnology and advanced materials companies achieved a turnover of just under 44 billion Euros in 2009. According to the industry, sales in 2009 clearly went down, much more so than in the previous year, 2008. More than one quarter (27%) of the companies reported a turnover decreasing more than 10% - only one tenth of the companies (10%) had expected cutbacks on such a big scale for 2009. The percentage of companies that were able to report a turnover increasing more than 10%, however, has fallen from 30% in 2008 to only just 12% in 2009.

Other areas, next to the annual turnover, in which business significantly decreased during 2009, are the numbers of orders and the production volumes. More than three quarters (76%) of the companies report a decrease in orders for the year 2009, 63% cut back their production. Still, more than half of the companies (54%) have been able to keep staff numbers steady. Especially in Germany, it seems that the possibility to work short time has helped to avoid too many redundancies. In total, the European microtechnology, nanotechnology and advanced materials industry employed 310,000 people at the end of 2009.

During 2009, financing remained stable for 46% of the companies. But it is a striking fact that none of the responding companies has reported an improvement in its funding situation in 2009. The current restrictive approach to lending is gradually becoming a life-threatening problem for many high-tech companies. If the situation on financial markets, the willingness of banks to lend and the willingness of the companies to invest in research and development do not improve again soon, the industry may be facing a massive growth problem.

Industry responds with diversification, customer acquisition and downsizing

Diversification is the most common reaction of the European micro, nano and materials companies to the economic crisis, in addition to intensified customer acquisition efforts. Almost half of the companies (49%) have expanded their business, 82% of them by developing new products, 55% by entering new markets. The measures the companies take as a response to the economic crisis betray a growing resignation: in 2009, the companies have more often taken restrictive measures than in the year before, for example, reduced labour costs (39% in 2009, 35% in 2009) or saved on R&D investments (30% in 2009, 14% in 2008). Other business areas subject to stronger saving in 2009 were marketing and the access of new regional markets.

German companies support automotive industry

Among the target markets of the German micro, nano and materials companies, the automotive industry has replaced the medical technology industry as the most popular market for the first time in years. Slightly more than half of the German companies (51%) supplied the automotive industry in 2009, whereas in the rest of Europe it were only 44%. It is likely that the car scrapping scheme has caused a short term boost to the benefit of the car producers and their supplying industries. How the markets are going to develop after the scheme has expired in the course of 2010 remains to be seen.

Mona Okroy | idw
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