The printing industry under pressure - opportunities and risks of the Corona crisis
THE FACTS ABOUT THE PANDEMIC - HOW BAD IS THE SITUATION REALLY?
- The entire globe has been under the spell of the contagion wave around COVID-19 since the beginning of 2020.
- This has socio-political implications, but the economy and thus the printing industry are also facing major problems.
- Compared to economic crises in the past, the pandemic could well have serious consequences - depending on the course of events it could even be disastrous.
- The printing industry is severely affected by the strong networking and dependence of other industries. Massive sales losses are feared.
- All the figures, forecasts and an outlook on how bad things really are for the industry can be found in this article.
Since January 2020, COVID-19 has determined events in all areas of life worldwide. The rapid spread of the virus across the globe prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify the situation as a pandemic as early as March 2020.
So far, more than 100 million infections have been registered around the world, and more than 2.4 million in Germany alone (as of 24 February 2021). Despite far-reaching precautionary measures, the spread of the virus could not be stopped. The closure of schools, public institutions and shops, as well as the cancellation of major events or bans on going out had caused the curve of new infections to flatten considerably over the summer months.
Afterwards, however, Germany experienced a sharp rise in new cases, with tens of thousands of new infections in some cases - every day. The successful development of vaccines, such as those from the German pharmaceutical company Biontech, are considered a game changer in pandemic control; the first vaccinations could be administered in Germany since the beginning of 2021.
However, since various mutations of the COVID-19 virus have appeared in the meantime, some of which are spreading even faster, the situation remains tense.
THE PRINTING INDUSTRY ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION?
The printing industry is facing a difficult phase. The economic situation is deteriorating due to the Corona crisis, with customers dropping out or processes in production chains being disrupted.
The performance of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG is therefore likely to influence the entire European printing industry and determine its future economic course: If the world's leading manufacturer of sheetfed offset presses is doing well, this is probably due not least to a stable printing industry. Heidelberger's share price is therefore an indication of the economic state of the printing industry.
The peculiarity of the current crisis is that it affects the entire economy - but had no economic trigger. Nevertheless, the effects of the pandemic could not be more far-reaching. This became apparent in March 2020 at the latest, when a so-called "comprehensive contact ban" was imposed nationwide. The consequence: all shops that were deemed irrelevant for the maintenance of the system had to close temporarily.
of orders in the printing industry depend on the commercial economy. If it is not doing well, our industry suffers badly from a lack of orders!
This is evident in the ongoing discussions about easing the current Corona restrictions as well as in the very different handling of measures in the individual federal states: So far, there is no reliable prognosis - regional differences lead to different handling. Rising infection figures as a result of openings - for example in the retail sector - inevitably lead to closures. This means that shops and companies cannot plan their business. This causes considerable uncertainty.
But even if operations continue, fundamental problems remain for almost all sectors. When customers are absent due to necessary domestic isolation, orders and turnover are missing. In the printing industry, especially regular customers from the areas of events, advertising and marketing have almost completely disappeared. Short-time work and similar measures have already been the result in many places.
This has already had a noticeable impact on the overall economy, as shown, among other things, by the findings of the Federal Statistical Office:
- For the first time since the financial market crisis of 2009, the number of people in employment in Germany fell significantly in 2020. In the 4th quarter of 2020, this was 1.6 percent less than in the previous year, i.e. around 744,000 people lost their jobs in this period.
- The development of gross domestic product paints a similar picture. The important indicator for the economy recorded a decline of 5 per cent in 2020 - the last time this happened in this form was in 2009.
In order to avoid major defaults, the Ministry of Economy has already decided on 27 March 2020 on comprehensive aid packages, such as money for emergency aid or an economic stabilisation fund. In this way, small businesses and start-ups as well as large companies are to be supported as much as possible.
How serious the long-term economic consequences of the pandemic will be can currently only be predicted to a limited extent. If widespread vaccination can be implemented quickly, this will also improve the prospects for the economy. However, the spread of new mutations of the virus gives rise to scepticism as to whether a rapid return to normality is possible.
THE SITUATION IS REALLY THAT BAD
Because containment has so far not shown the hoped-for success and mutations give rise to fears of further waves of infections, it is difficult to make a forecast on the economic situation. The impact of the pandemic is not only reflected in employment figures and the gross domestic product:
In the meantime, the stock market experienced rapid falls, which were, however, cushioned by the news on vaccine development at the latest. In fact, the progress reports had a boosting effect on prices.
Nevertheless, concerns about the uncertain outlook remain. Thus, the business climate index of the ifo Institute is also showing ups and downs for the time being, after falling to 86.1 points in March 2020, the lowest value since 2009.
The ifo Business Climate Index includes assessments of the current business situation as well as expectations for the future. For this purpose, a monthly catalogue of questions is evaluated, which companies from various sectors answer. This results in an average value that provides information about the economic development in the German economy as a whole and in individual sectors - such as the printing industry.
The ifo business climate index is therefore considered an important early indicator for further economic development.
It is very difficult to assess the economic outlook more precisely, as the further course of the pandemic and thus also the level of losses in the economic sectors are still uncertain. But there are already some expert opinions and assessments that give a rough idea of the consequences:
- Context: Germany has seen consistent economic growth since 2009. Now, however, there is every indication that a recession could be on the way.
- Extent: According to Ifo President Clemens Fuest, a slump in economic growth of between 7.2 and 20.6 percent is to be expected in Germany if the crisis continues for two to three months. The Organisation of Industrialised Countries OECD expects international world economic growth to halve.
- Comparison: In 2009, after the peak of the global economic crisis, the German economy slumped by 5.7 percent. This was the largest deficit in the last 30 years and the only recession of over 1.0 per cent.
- Risks: The financial sector is still stable despite heavy losses on the stock market. However, if banks collapse, as was the case during the global economic crisis around 2008, the scenario could become far worse.
The situation in the printing industry in particular is very tense, with the mood fluctuating between concern and confidence. These fluctuations are also reflected in the business climate index for the industry:
WAYS OUT OF THE RECESSION - WHICH SCENARIOS ARE CONCEIVABLE?
So a phase of recession is certain - the only question is the extent of it. There are various forecasts that follow certain scenarios.
If the economic curve rises again quickly after a significant slump, it is a V-scenario - named after the shape the curve takes. In a rather short phase of economic stagnation, many hopes are pinned on such a course with comparatively mild effects.
If this phase lasts a little longer, the economy stagnates for some time before the following upswing - a so-called U-scenario appears. This is the case in the current crisis when a (near) production standstill lasts for about three months.
However, if the impact of the crisis lasts longer or hits several countries very hard, it is likely to lead to a more severe recession from which the global economy cannot recover quickly. Economists and entrepreneurs are rightly afraid of this L-scenario, in which the economy stagnates for a long time: stock market prices, sales and employment figures collapse and remain at a low level for months or years. If the crisis returns with a second, severe wave of infection, for example, this is certainly a possible scenario.
A Y-scenario would be just as devastating - whether for the entire economy or entire industries or only for individual companies and sectors. Similar to the L-scenario, activities and sales come to an almost complete standstill. After the shutdown, the economy recovers only very slowly.
If the V-scenario remains, a slump of about 7 per cent would be expected. The IfW (Institute for the World Economy) forecasts a GDP loss of "only" 4.5 percent in the event of a recovery as early as the end of April. Thus, the recession is still roughly in the range of the loss of prosperity after the recent economic crisis. The real economic consequences should therefore compare well:
At that time, lower sales of all kinds of goods led to production cuts and thus short-time work or job cuts - in Germany this was very noticeable in the automotive industry, among others. Among other things, the unemployment rate rose again for the first time since a clear downward trend - but only by 0.3 percentage points, which was mainly achieved through short-time work measures costing 4.7 million euros. But the ensuing drop is likely to have been slowed by this in the long term.
The printing industry was also allowed to experience a noticeable loss in 2009. This is clearly evident from the BVDM's figures: turnover fell abruptly by around 10 per cent, which meant a total loss of 2.3 billion euros. In the years that followed, turnover remained roughly constant, but the values from the period immediately before the financial crisis could no longer be achieved.
This means that the printing industry was in a better position than some other industrial sectors - the local automotive industry, for example, recorded a slump of 68 billion euros (around 20 per cent down on the total turnover from the previous year). Nevertheless, a strong impact of the economic crisis on printing companies is clearly visible.
The U scenario, which lies between an expected 8.7 per cent decline in GDP (IfW) and the 20.6 per cent forecast by Ifo president Fuest, would thus be devastating for German industry and thus also for the printing sector. Even greater production and sales losses in key industrial sectors would mean extreme order losses here, because the manufacturing and processing industry is the biggest driver of the printing industry. It accounts for a full 86.4 per cent of the order situation.
THE PRINTING INDUSTRY FACES A LOW POINT
Many industries - with a few exceptions almost all - are experiencing a problematic phase due to the Corona crisis. The printing industry is no exception, quite the contrary. It is particularly affected by many links with other sectors of the economy and dependencies.
In this context, a slump is also particularly noticeable due to the timing of the crisis. This is because the situation in recent years has been quite positive across the industry, which is related to past developments. In the still young 21st century, the printing industry has already overcome many challenges.
- The initial situation: For the longest time, the exchange of information took place largely in print. Print was an essential part of all economic sectors and was growing accordingly.
- Digitisation: Then came the internet to challenge this status quo. Data exchange, information, reading material - increasingly, many aspects of everyday life could proceed without the print industry. But:
- Financial crisis 2009: The financial crisis followed, causing a significant downturn. This also brought heavy losses in printing.
- Consolidation: Since then the industry has remained fairly constant at a similar level to before 2009, with a total turnover of just over 20 billion euros per year. And this despite the further spread of smartphones and other mobile devices - the clever use of the internet as a sales channel for print products functioned the competitor into an opportunity for the industry.
- Especially for market participants who use the possibilities of the internet to their advantage, this is rather a positive development.
So the situation was largely positive: The transformation of digitalisation from a challenge to a success factor, which online printers in particular are driving, is keeping the market afloat and constantly creating new potential. Now, in 2020, the industry is expecting a renewed crisis due to the international Corona threat. The biggest factors directly affecting companies in the printing industry include:
- Shortage of materials: paper, cardboard, inks, varnishes and so on - all these depend on intermediate suppliers who may be based in (non-European) foreign countries. If there are bottlenecks or restrictions of any kind there, this has a direct impact on availability for printing companies. At present, however, no bottlenecks are to be expected.
- Workforce: The impact of sick leave on the workforce is still rather low, but this could change in the worst case. Security measures can also have a minor negative impact on productivity, as routine work processes are restricted or changed as a result.
- Logistics: Due to increased demand in parcel logistics, providers are working at full speed here. Newly launched logistics portals should help to use all available capacities as efficiently as possible.
- Order slumps: This is one of the most important factors - because they affect the printing industry particularly strongly. By far the biggest client of the printing industry is the commercial sector with 86.4 per cent.
- Freezing industry network: Networking with customers, business partners and market participants is becoming much more difficult. The cancellation of trade fairs, industry meetings and major events in particular is likely to have long-term consequences. Some trade fairs have already been cancelled and others postponed - but what is actually feasible remains uncertain. So far, major events in Germany have been banned in principle until at least 31 August.
Further restrictions are also difficult to estimate. Both individual decisions by other countries (e.g. border closures in the Czech Republic) and measures by globally active companies such as Facebook (cancellation of all major events by the end of June 2021) can have a profound impact.
The current situation thus holds some challenges for the printing industry. If major parts of the industry come to a standstill for a longer period of time, as feared by ifo for its U-scenario, further slumps in orders and in some areas additional problems with suppliers are likely.
DIMENSIONS STILL UNCERTAIN
So, as in all other major industries, the biggest question is how long the massive constraints of the crisis will last and what solutions will be available in the meantime, including through government aid programmes.
In January 2021, the BVDM perceived a visibly worsening mood within the industry, with a business climate index below 90 points. At least the index remained above the low it had reached in April 2020.
The fact that companies in the printing industry are still among the system-relevant businesses that are invaluable in many areas of life - from forms for public authorities to packaging for the grocery trade - is likely to be of little consolation to many.
The fact is that there is a widespread lack of orders, which is becoming a burden for two-thirds of the companies. Capacity utilisation is therefore only 75.8 per cent on average and thus significantly below the comparable value from the previous year. According to the BVDM's economic telegram (as of 29 January 2021), this also results in a largely pessimistic assessment of the current business situation.
Much will therefore depend on how successful the handling of pandemic developments will turn out to be: Corona mutations and only sluggish progress in vaccinations so far raise fears of an extension of the restriction measures. The business outlook is therefore still marked by uncertainty. However, 52 percent of the companies surveyed still said they did not expect any change in their business situation - but in the worst case, this also means that no improvement is in sight.
HOW TO EMERGE FROM THE CRISIS A WINNER
When the overall economic situation is bad, there are of course always major challenges for all participants in the value chain. Major investments or cost items are often avoided. For example, Xerox withdrew its bid to take over HP at the beginning of April against the backdrop of the current situation.
So the bitter reality for many market participants is that sooner or later they will have to fundamentally rethink their position. It is quite possible that some companies will reach the point where their own business model will no longer be viable. But in such extremely changed circumstances, there are always new doors that open up for highly specialised market participants or innovators, for example.
Due to contact restrictions there is a certain trend towards e-commerce, which on the one hand gives online printers in particular the opportunity to benefit from their many years of experience. In addition, the crisis naturally increases the demand for attractively designed shipping and product packaging to be produced.
For example, at the beginning of 2021, the German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association BEVH presented a thoroughly impressive balance sheet. Because in the Corona year 2020, the measures to contain the infection event contributed to the fact that both gross sales and industry growth developed very positively:
- According to the BEVH, online trade turned over 83.3 billion euros - almost 15 per cent more than in the previous year.
- This was accompanied by growth in the industry of 12.5 per cent.
However, the encouraging figures are by no means valid for all industry segments. The travel and event industry has lost significant turnover - travel restrictions and event cancellations have drastically reduced demand.
The winners, on the other hand, are above all goods for daily use: Food, for example, recorded an increase in sales of over 60 per cent, medicines 54 per cent and drugstore products 35 per cent. These are all sectors in which packaging and packaging printing play a central role.
For parts of the printing industry the increased volume of online orders therefore represents a great opportunity. But the right product portfolio alone is not enough to exploit this opportunity. There is still pressure to innovate, but it is definitely worth taking it on: Overall, market players who always go with innovations and implement new technologies early on feel fewer changes in their everyday work - digital networking makes it easier for them to continue operations and topics like home office are not new to them either.
Similarly, a crisis causing supply difficulties and availability of individual goods could mean a larger niche for 3D printing in the manufacturing industry. Spare and small parts could thus be manufactured in-house when needed instead of being dependent on a functioning supply chain.
FLEXIBILITY WINS - ADAPT!
In times when print is having a hard time anyway, flexible, agile and innovative businesses have been able to hold their own - this is now true again, possibly even more so than ever. Print companies that are better able to adapt to changing circumstances and find solutions to new problems more quickly could help determine what the market will look like in the future.
For example, demand is increasing for certain shipping packaging and especially for the needs of the pharmaceutical industry. Some companies, such as the French packaging giant Sidel, have already responded and are producing larger quantities of packaging for disinfectants, for example.
At a time when many processes are shifting to the digital world, the pursuit and constant development of a suitable online strategy is all the more important. Those who are already well positioned can already benefit.
With its online calculator, Labelprint24 has a tool at hand that also simplifies many processes and can also be used by other companies. Numerous products from the portfolio can be individually calculated in real time and ordered directly in the next step.
In addition, we can make this tool available to our partners and key accounts. Then you can implement our online calculator on your own site - your customers order via this form and benefit from the live calculation. Likewise, the digital interface ensures faster order processing, which is fully automated and passed on to us.
LABELPRINT24 - OUR RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS
The challenges are definitely present and can be felt throughout the sector. But that doesn't mean that companies have to pull up stakes - on the contrary. The printing industry is closely interwoven into many different value chains and thus particularly important for supplying citizens as the crisis continues.
Labelprint24 therefore strives with great efforts of its top team to continue to offer all customers the promised services in the usual quality without any restrictions Therefore, no changes have been necessary so far. Likewise, we are always endeavouring to find solutions for the prompt delivery of our orders should logistics service providers be restricted by acute developments.
- We take the situation very seriously. This means: We understand the concerns of our employees and do our utmost to protect them.
- As far as possible, our employees are in the home office. For production and shipping, where on-site work is unavoidable, we have set up special safety precautions.
- For example, all employees keep a careful safety distance. Shifts are handed over completely without contact and our employees are sensitised to medically recommended hygiene measures. Regular hand washing, no direct contact, as few people as possible in a confined space.
In order to maintain our production and services, we do our best to continue to operate all steps of our production chain without restrictions - without taking any risks. On every page in the header of the website you can find a daily updated message on the current situation in our company and thus for deliveries and orders under Messages. As Labelprint24 is well prepared, we do not expect any restrictions in our service for the time being.
- Material stocks: Our warehouse is wisely well stocked - so our services will not be directly restricted by the crisis for the time being. In any case, the materials we use rarely come from the severely affected areas, so supply will hardly be affected.
- Emergency safety net: If all else fails, we automatically outsource our orders to our Europe-wide partner network - so our customers are still guaranteed order fulfilment. A contingency plan ensures that customers will not feel any interruptions even in the event of unexpected restrictions.
- Logistics: Our contractual partner UPS is also committed to continuing to fulfil orders wherever possible without compromising security measures. As a result, there are a few regions where local service disruptions may occur - more information is available here. If you are placing an order from a region currently listed there, please let us know so we can work to find solutions.
MASTERING THE CORONA CRISIS - SOME TIPS
Whether it is the printing industry, other sectors of the economy or private individuals - we are all undoubtedly affected by the crisis. It is a new situation for all of us and thus a challenge that has not been there for a long time. But this too can be mastered.
Like other businesses, we at Labelprint24 have already been able to learn a lot from the past weeks. Therefore, we share the insights and challenges and call on other companies to do the same.
- Take security measures seriously: This applies both privately and at work. Only if as many people as possible respect the official recommendations can this work in the long term. Despite all economic and entrepreneurial ambitions, the health and safety of everyone involved is paramount. This is also the only way to maintain the trust of employees.
- Open communication: It is, of course, difficult to address issues such as short-time work or extended safety measures that place an additional burden on the workforce. But openness and honesty, especially about the real reasons, is the key to a good working relationship.
- Do not downplay the severity of the situation: It is a crisis with an economic impact - that is a fact. Therefore, there is no shame in companies having to rely on government and country support programmes or resort to short-time work. These options can help many companies get through difficult phases. On the BMWI site there is an overview of the various assistance offers available to companies.
Like many other businesses, Labelprint24 is now confronted for the first time with employees sitting in a home office. This is technically, communicatively, socially and organisationally very challenging for all parties. We have already been able to learn that from the first weeks of these circumstances:
- Basis of trust: Fear for the productivity of employees in the home office is misplaced. Measures for additional supervision only burden them - therefore open communication and a good basis of trust are important foundations. On the other hand, it is of course possible to get lost in work at home without fixed break times - so it is a good idea to motivate the team to have a balanced daily routine and to observe break and closing times.
- Support: Not only for companies, but also for the workforce, the sudden switch to working from home is a challenge. Therefore, it is important to make an effort for a smooth transition and to support the employees as much as possible. Encouraging the exchange of tips on how to create a distraction-free, productive workday among employees or being in more active contact with the team to answer questions or problems is therefore more important than ever.
- Social factors: Working at a private desk is unfamiliar for many, especially the direct contact with colleagues is missing. Even if it is not urgently necessary for core operations, additional telephone or even video conferences can be helpful. We have learned: Don't overdo it! Regular, but short and casual has proven successful at Labelprint24.
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