glasstec Virtual kicked off this week on Oct. 20. First-day programming featured a “Glass Associations Summit,” bringing together leaders from glass associations across the globe to discuss the state of glass manufacturing during COVID-19.
Market realities during the pandemic
Moderated by Dave Fordham of glass worldwide, the presentation featured Prof. Gaorong Han of Zhejiang University, representing the Chinese Ceramic Society; Sanjeev Oberoi, Asahi India Glass India Limited, of All India Glass Manufacturers' Federation; Luca Oggianu, representing Glass for Europe; Dr. Johann Overath, BV Glas, representing Bundesverband Glasindustrie e.V., based in Germany; and Nicole Harris, president and CEO of the National Glass Association.
“We can’t talk about market conditions without talking about the pandemic and the turmoil it caused,” said Harris, during her presentation. “In March, most companies in North America were confused, in denial or both. And because there was no national plan, most companies had to rely on their state.” The North American market experienced a 35-50 percent drop in revenue on average, said Harris, and spring shutdowns were followed by a rush of construction over summer due to delayed jobs.
Presentations by other association leaders told a similar story of industries disrupted by COVID-19, with the majority citing significant drops in demand from the automotive and construction industries. Glass for Europe’s Oggianu cited several difficulties for the European market, including a 17-23 percent drop in glass sales for the construction market, and the need to put many float lines on hot hold during the pandemic, a costly situation with zero output, he said.
Though most associations cited significant decreases in production, the picture was not uniform. Prof. Han said COVID-19 only minimally impacted China’s imports and exports in the first quarter, and rebounded in the second quarter. And while Germany, like the rest of Europe, experienced reduced demand for float glass, according to Dr. Overath, construction permitting actually experienced a 1.5 percent increase. Additionally, Germany's construction industry has operated at a fairly steady level during the pandemic, he said.
What’s ahead for the global glass industry
All association leaders attempted to offer some predictions for the future of the glass industry in their respective regions. Oberoi said that he estimated a possible v-shaped recovery for some segments, with a -20 percent growth trend for flat glass in India for the 2020 fiscal year. European association representatives were cautious; Dr. Overath said the outlook for Germany is “cloudy,” but believes that the automotive decline has already bottomed out.
Oggianu reported the European economy may be experiencing a rebound, though this could be an illusion, he said, since the health crisis is not past, and restrictive measures could be reimposed. While summer saw a resurgence in construction, it was likely due to restarted projects, he said, and the number of construction permits has gone down. Oggianu outlined the EU Economy Recovery Package, part of the EU’s national recovery plan, which will emphasize investment in green and digital sectors.
Harris described similar worries about the continuation of the pandemic, citing the likelihood of increased infection rates during winter, and the fact that U.S. states are reversing re-opening. Backlogs for North American commercial construction contractors do not go past the fourth quarter of 2021, said Harris, and it’s unlikely the industry will return to 2019 levels until 2022 or possibly 2023.