Covid response provides unexpected boost to global markets

By Chris Sleight |  29 March 2021

At the end of 2019 it was anticipated that 2020 would see a modest downturn in global construction equipment sales, following the peaks of the two previous years. The overall decline was expected to be of the order of 5 per cent.

The picture of course worsened in March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and national lockdowns came into force around the world. It was feared that global markets would crash. Annual declines of 20-40 per cent were anticipated in worldwide equipment sales.

However, the final result for 2020 was that there was almost no change in global sales. Indeed, it is striking that the market performed better in the pandemic than it was expected to prior to the Covid outbreak.

The most important factor in this remarkable performance was the huge stimulus spending in China, which saw the market rise from already buoyant levels of 2019 by a further 30 per cent.

In addition, the downturn in other parts of the world was not as severe as was feared when the lockdowns started. Instead of the anticipated falls of 30 per cent or more, most markets declined by 10-20 per cent, and some even grew. The overall fall for the world, excluding China, was 12 per cent in 2020.

Having reached very high levels in 2019 and 2018, these downturns meant that most markets remained at reasonable levels in 2020, albeit with a pattern of sharp declines in the first half of the year and roaring recoveries in the second half.

In addition, the forecast for 2021 and beyond is now generally better than was expected prior to the Covid outbreak.

The components of this are continued modest growth in China in 2021, combined with a bounce back in sales in other countries around the world – generally of the order of 5-10 per cent. These increases have the potential to take global construction equipment sales to a record high in 2021.

The buoyancy is such that the question is not so much whether there will be demand for equipment, but whether manufacturers will be able to meet it. History has shown that a global volume of 1 million units or more can equate to supply shortages in critical components.

In early 2021, this was exacerbated by the fact that so many suppliers in the industry had cut production in 2020 – either because they decided to slow output in the face of an uncertain future, or because their volumes were affected by lockdowns and reduced production by their suppliers. Ramping back up to former levels remained challenging due to on-going Covid restrictions and production constraints further down the supply chain.

A further factor was that over the course of 2020, equipment producers, their suppliers and their distributors alike took steps to reduce their inventories and focus on cash flow. As understandable and prudent as these measures were, they clearly contributed to the difficulties in meeting demand which were being seen in early 2021.

It is therefore expected that 2021 will be characterised by equipment supply constraints and long lead times for machines. Off-Highway Research believes these factors are the major challenge to its forecasts and the industry reaching its sales potential, rather than any demand-side impediments.

Detailed discussion in report for all clients

The impact of Covid on the markets and the revised outlook are discussed in Off-Highway Research's updated Global Construction Equipment Markets study, and this is now available to all clients. The report is designed to give a brief and easily digestible overview of the market size and growth worldwide, with brief discussion of the key drivers behind the figures. 

The report provides data on the size of the global equipment market, highlighting the key regions of China, India, Japan, North America and Western Europe. It also includes a five-year forecast and a breakdown of the global market in unit terms.

As with all Off-Highway Research’s reports, the PDF file includes an embedded Excel file containing all of our own data included in the study. This facility allows clients to incorporate this information into their own studies and analytical tools.

The report is based on Off-Highway Research’s latest database update, which was published in March 2021.

The report is available to download form the opening page of Off-Highway Research’s client portal. Click here to log in or click the ‘Subscriber Login’ button in the top-left corner of The study can be downloaded from the ‘Global Market Report’ panel on the right of the opening screen. The study is also available to non-subscribers on request.

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