The world's largest trade fair for the printing and media industry, Drupa 2004, opened its doors in Düsseldorf this week and runs through May 19. The fair is an important barometer of economic conditions in the sector.
Companies like Heidelberger Druckmaschinen are hoping for signs of a turnaround at Drupa.
After three years of declining business in the highly cyclical printer market, companies are hoping for an upswing in 2004. Over the next two weeks, more than 1,800 exhibitors from 52 countries will display their latest wares and draw in an expected 370,000 visitors. Despite the recent economic slump, there are only 81 fewer exhibitors at this year's show than in 2002.
Printing machine manufacturers in Germany are looking with relative optimism towards the future. The sector is expecting an upswing in both the domestic and foreign markets for printing machines, paper technologies and printing ink. There are clear signs of improvement in the investment climate through increases in advertizing budgets, growth in mail order sales and catalog advertising.
In recent media interviews, the president of the German Printing and Media Industries Federation, Rolf Schwarz, said the industry is predicting modest growth of 2 percent this year. "We're looking at the developments this year with cautious optimism," he told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.
Drupa project manager Manual Matere recently explained the main themes of this year's fair to Deutsche Welle. "The subject of workflows appears to be an important issue for exhibitors and visitors -- in other words, the networked printing shop," he said. "In our 'Innovation Park,' we're showing software trends in information technology. There's no 'heavy metal' here, as it were. Instead, it focuses on data, data management and networking printers as well as printing orders from customers."
Reading the economic tea leaves
The world's largest printer manufacturer, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG is also maintaining a large presence in Düsseldorf this year. The company is introducing more than 50 new products across its entire value-added chain in the printing realm to its 240,000 customers worldwide.
Heidelberg's CEO, Bernhard Schreier, is also attending the fair to oversee the company's presence. The market leader is the largest exhibitor at Drupa and has filled two halls totalling about 7,800 square meters and is showing 30 percent more new products than it did at the last fair in 2000. After a phase of downsizing, executives at the Heidelberg giant are now more optimistic about the future.
"You know that Heidelberg Druck lost 25 percent of its revenue volume during the past three years," Schreier said. "Back in 2001, we were still doing €5.3 billion in business. That's now fallen to €3.66 billion, a 25 percent cut. But we're assuming that in the next two years we will recover and that we can count on revenue increases both this year and next."
A global downturn
The drops in business hit the entire market hard. According to analysts from HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt quoted by the Financial Times, worldwide revenues in the industry fell from €11.4 billion a year in 2000 to €9 billion last year.
Turnover for Heidelberg during the 2003-2004 business year in the regions of North and South America as well as Europe and the Middle East were marked by weak investment in the printing sector. But recently the regions have show slight signs of improvement. By contrast, business in Eastern Europe and the Asia Pacific is thriving for Heidelberger.
"When we look to China and Japan, the leading markets in the Asian region, then we're figuring that we'll have 10 percent growth again this year in China. Japan has also recovering. As you know, that's where our main competitors are based, but it's still one of the top five markets for Heidelberger Druck. We've been able to compete well in this market in the past and we will also have good things to report there in the future."
For companies like Heidelberger, Drupa is an important event. In the past, the company has earned as much as two-thirds of its quarterly revenues through deals cut at Drupa, and the company says it expects a similar result this year.