Italian production of footwear rose by 1.1 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2010, driven by higher export orders. Fifty-one percent of the shoemakers polled by their industry association, Anci, said they would finish 2010 with a higher output than in 2009, while 14 percent estimated volumes to be stable and 35 percent forecast a decline..

Looking ahead, 43 percent of companies forecast an increase in production in the first half of 2011, 42 percent see output remaining unchanged and 15 percent forecast a decline. Exports will continue to be the main driver for growth this year, with 57 percent of those interviewed indicating that they expect an increase in foreign orders and only 29 percent forecasting a rise in domestic orders.

Thanks to higher volumes and a 1.0 percent increase in prices in Italy and 1.9 percent abroad, Italian shoemakers boosted their revenues by 2.5 percent in the first nine months compared with the previous year.

Italy enjoyed double-digit growth in exports in the first nine months of the year, offsetting a decline in domestic demand as the country continues to suffer from weak economic growth. In terms of value, exports increased in all of the country's 20 main markets, except Greece, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Sales volumes, however, were higher in Greece and the order backlog rose slightly, up by 0.2 percent, in Japan during the fourth quarter.

Exports registered growth in both the second and third quarters, erasing a slight decline in the first one, but overall they remained below the levels achieved in 2008 except in France, Italy's largest export market. The EU absorbs about three-fourths of Italian exports.

In the first nine months, Italy increased its trade surplus in the sector to €2.244 billion from €2.050 billion.

Overall exports were up by 11.14 percent to €5.192 billion in value in the nine-month period and increased by 13.93 percent to 175 million pairs in volume. Exports to France were up by 11.84 percent in value to €832.6 million and by 17.22 percent in quantity to 32 million pairs. Germany was the second-largest export market, where sales increased by 13.35 percent in value to €683.4 million and by 13.40 percent in volume to 29.7 million pairs, followed by the U.S., where exports were up by 20.89 percent to €452.8 million representing 8.8 million pairs, up by 14.48 percent.

Exports to Greece dropped by 6.02 percent in value to €135.1 million but were up by 6.74 percent in volume to 5.8 million pairs. Sales to Japan dropped by 2.07 percent to €125.1 million in value and declined by 5.46 percent to 2.1 million pairs in volume.

Among the leading markets, Italy's shoe exports to Hong Kong marked the highest average price per pair at €88.16, up by 13.90 percent, followed by the Ukraine at €75.58, up by 17.30 percent. This compares with a 4.0 percent decline to €24.80 per pair for Italian shoes exported to countries of the EU.

In value, overall Italian exports of leather shoes rose by 8.90 percent to €4.243 billion, synthetic shoes were up by 18.36 percent to €438.8 million, slippers increased by 8.94 percent to €40.4 million, rubber shoes rose by 32.03 percent to €22.0 million and shoes made of fabric and other materials were up by 27.60 percent to €448.2 million.

Imports increased by 12.70 percent in value to €2.948 billion and by 12.44 percent in volume to 290.5 million pairs. The average price declined by 0.23 percent to €10.15 per pair. Italian imports from China rose by 12.64 percent in volume to 139.9 million pairs and by 15.27 percent in value to €663.3 million. The average price increased by 2.33 percent to €4.74 per pair but remained the lowest among leading suppliers. Romania was the second-largest exporter to Italy, with sales up by 31.90 percent to 21.3 million pairs representing a 24.59 percent rise in value to €295.5 million. Vietnam was the third, with volumes up by 5.30 percent to 17.3 million pairs, representing a 14.67 percent rise to €198.4 million.

Italian households reduced their shoe purchases by 1.2 percent in the nine months to September to 122.7 million pairs. In value, the total expenditure slipped by 1.3 percent to €4.670 billion. Spending for men's shoes, excluding sneakers, fell by 3.4 percent to €746.9 million; women's shoes, excluding sneakers, rose by 1.4 percent to €1.862 billion; and children and youth shoes were down by 3.9 percent to €304.7 million. Sales of sports footwear and sneakers dropped by 3.1 percent to €1.349 million and the sale of slippers, clogs and mules declined by 0.7 percent to €408.0 million.

Confcommercio, an association grouping retailers, estimates that overall domestic spending has fallen to the levels of 1999 and does not expect any significant recovery before 2012.

The rise in production did not stop the closure of businesses, and the number of shoe manufacturers shrank by 3.1 percent, or 188 companies, in the first nine months to 5,840, while the number of jobs decreased by 3.9 percent, or 3,198 people, to 79,709.

Anci's chairman, Vito Artioli, indicated that there are significant differences between companies. Some firms are reaping the fruits of their restructuring efforts and others are finding it difficult to position themselves on the market. He added that companies remain cautious about the solidity of the recovery and called on the government to support domestic demand.