Italian Industrial Production: 2007-2013

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On the theme of industrial / manufacturing sector trends, here is a paper from the Banca d'Italia, authored by Andrea Locatelli, Libero Monteforte, and Giordano Zevi, titled "Heterogeneous Fall in Productive Capacity in Italian Industry During the 2008-13 Double-Dip Recession" (January 21, 2016, Bank of Italy Occasional Paper No. 303:, which looks at the two periods of shocks, separated by one period of brief recovery.

Per authors, "between 2008 and 2013 productive capacity was considerably downsized in the Italian manufacturing sector" based on micro data from the Bank of Italy surveys across "the whole 2008-13 period and in four sub-periods (pre-crisis 2001-07, first phase of the crisis 2008-09, recovery 2010-11, and second crisis 2012-13)."

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The study main findings are:
i) "losses of productive capacity varied widely across manufacturing sub-sectors with differences in pre-crisis trends tending to persist in a few sub-sectors during the double-dip recession";
ii) "large firms were more successful in avoiding major capacity losses, especially in the first phase of the crisis";
iii) "the share of sales on foreign markets was negatively correlated with performance in 2008-09, but the correlation turned positive in 2012-13";
iv) "among the Italian macro-regions, the Centre weathered the long recession better" (see charts below);
v) "subsidiaries underperformed firms not belonging to any group"; and
vi) "the negative effects on productive capacity of credit constraints, which discouraged investments, were felt by Italian firms particularly in 2012-13".

Very interesting outrun by region, presented here in two charts:

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Some beef on that point: "The decline in [productive capacity] was not evenly distributed across the Italian macro-regions. The macro-regions more exposed to foreign demand were severely hit by the global financial crisis, with [productive capacity] declining by 8.6% in the North West and 7.0% in the North East." Now, here's the irony: Italy was (barely) able to sustain long-term Government borrowing on foot of its extremely strong exporters. During the recent twin crises, this very strength of the Italian economy turned against it. Which sort of raises few eyebrows: strong exporting capacity of Italy led the country to experience sharper shock than in many other states. Yet, the core prescription for growth from across the EU members states is - export!; and core prescription for recovery from the status quo main stream economists is - beef up current ace t surpluses (aka, raise exports relative to imports). Italian evidence does not really sound that supportive of these two 'solutions'…

"During the temporary recovery, the South under-performed the rest of the country, losing 4.0% of its [productive capacity], while [productive capacity] stagnated in the other macro-regions."

"The sovereign debt crisis affected the entire country more evenly. As a result, between 2010 and 2013 the loss of [productive capacity] in the South (-8.0%) was roughly twice as large as that recorded in the rest of the country (-4.7%)… The gap reflects the within-country heterogeneity in firms' characteristics: …South Italy has mainly small firms, with an average of 100 employees (roughly constant during the double-dip crisis). Average firm size is larger in the Centre, just below 150, and in the North East, around 180, and even more so in the North West (consistently above 200). …southern regions have smaller export shares (about 20%), which are higher everywhere else (around 35% at the beginning of the sample); the export share shows a positive trend in all macro-regions." You can see these reflected in the charts above.

In summary, thus, "the degree of foreign exposure helps to explain why the North suffered more during the global financial crisis. Also, the continuing decline of [productive capacity] in the South since 2007 is consistent with the smaller firm size in that macro-area (discussed above) and the larger decline of domestic demand there".

So the key lesson here is: in the current environment characterised by rising regionalisation of trade flows and weak global demand, the exports-led recovery is more likely to trigger a negative shock to the economy than support economic growth.

Unless you are talking about a country like Ireland, where exports are booming despite global demand slowdown. Which, of course, cannot be explained by anything other than beggar-thy-neighbour tax optimisation policies.