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The Deflationary Nature of Automation Is Creating Alternative for Buyers in Robotics


After a tough begin to the yr, robotics and automation shares are displaying indicators of stabilization. The ROBO index is up 15% thus far within the remaining quarter of 2022.1 We lately spoke with our strategic advisor Morten Paulsen, head of fairness analysis at CLSA based mostly in Tokyo, who has been advising buyers in Asian manufacturing unit automation firms for greater than 20 years. On this interview, we focus on why buyers ought to put together for one of the best shopping for alternative for robotics since March 2020, the deflationary affect of automation expertise, and the way Asia is more likely to proceed to play a significant function within the house.



Jeremie Capron, ROBO International Director of Analysis: I wish to begin this dialogue with some big-picture questions. Rather a lot has modified since your final interview with us in 2019[VB1] . We’re now in a macro setting of rising rates of interest, geopolitical danger, the very best inflation charges for the reason that ’70s, and a attainable world recession. How is all of this affecting the demand for robotics and automation?


Morten Paulsen, CLSA Head of Fairness Analysis: That’s a whole lot of dialogue factors. Let’s begin with inflation and the function robotics and automation play.

Industrial automation is a deflationary power. Robots and automation gear allow producers to decrease marginal unit prices. Robots don’t put upward stress on labor prices both, and that’s one other manner of curbing inflationary stress. I prefer to name robots “inflation fighters” for these causes. 

Within the setting we’re in at this time, I might argue that the one deflationary power now we have left are robots and comparable applied sciences advancing labor effectivity. 

Within the previous system, earlier than 2017 or so, nations just like the US might import deflation via commerce with low-cost producers like China. That system is now damaged. Manufacturing prices in China are going up. On high of that, you’ve border tariffs and better transport and logistics prices. The US and Europe are actually importing inflation, not deflation. Demographics and a shrinking workforce are additionally fueling inflation. 


JC: The US launched the Inflation Discount Act a couple of months in the past. Is {that a} step in the appropriate course? 


MP: Some will argue that subsidies solely create inflation as you pump extra money into the system, and I’ve a whole lot of sympathy for that view. Nevertheless, a good portion of the Inflation Discount Act is aimed to stimulate the availability facet of the financial system. In keeping with knowledge compiled by the AMT, greater than $88 billion is straight supporting manufacturing within the US. 

Serving to firms enhance labor effectivity via automation will enable them to raised compete in a extra inflationary setting and will convey costs down and jobs again on the identical time.  

Provide-side insurance policies aimed to stimulate investments in effectivity are part of the answer. The best way I see it, the Inflation Discount Act is much from good, however it’s a step in the appropriate course.


JC: Inflation can be inflicting rates of interest to go up. Aren’t greater rates of interest making it tougher for firms to put money into robotics?


MP: In keeping with textbook economics, rising rates of interest are damaging for capital expenditure. Nevertheless, for those who run a historic correlation evaluation between rates of interest and automation investments, you get a constructive correlation coefficient ― which means that robotic and automation investments are excessive when rates of interest are excessive. 


JC: In order that’s the other of the textbooks. How would you clarify that?


MP: It signifies that producers gained’t rush out to purchase gear simply because rates of interest are low. Demand for automation gear is extra tied to capability utilization ratios and tightness within the labor market. 

At present, the labor market is extraordinarily tight, explaining why robotic demand is at report excessive ranges. Every thing I heard on the IMTS present in Chicago again in September would counsel that labor scarcity is an actual concern and an actual impediment for bringing manufacturing again.

We’ve talked about re-shoring for a few years now, however other than a couple of examples right here and there, it wasn’t a considerable motion. The online improve of imports of manufactured items would dwarf the quantity of manufacturing that was introduced again. I consider that may very well be altering now. Producers need to localize manufacturing and shorten provide chains. That is additionally a gap for investments in “near-shoring” places equivalent to Mexico.


JC: If producers are “re-shoring,” isn’t that damaging for China? China is, in any case, the world’s largest marketplace for automation gear. 


MP: I don’t assume the world will cease shopping for Chinese language manufactured items. The nation has vital benefits by way of scale and manufacturing data that will probably be laborious to interchange. 

Nevertheless, I do assume producers outdoors of China are making use of the next danger premium on Chinese language-made parts. Over the following decade, I do consider {that a} greater proportion of the incremental manufacturing capability will probably be added outdoors of China. 


JC: Again in 2007 or 2008, you printed a landmark report referred to as “Automating Asia,” the place you appropriately predicted that Asia would change into a significant driver for world automation over the following decade. You sound much less upbeat about Asian automation at this time, am I proper about that?


MP: Properly, rather a lot has modified since 2008. China’s robotic density in manufacturing is now pretty near that of the US and Western Europe. Because the market matures, we should always count on development charges to decelerate. 

That mentioned, similar to america, China is going through a labor scarcity. Beginning charges in China dropped dramatically within the ’80s because of the one youngster coverage, and that’s now leading to a pointy drop in labor entry and labor participation. That’s once more resulting in greater labor price and direct labor scarcity. China is trying to robots as the answer to their issues.

Past China, I nonetheless assume Asia will stay a development driver because the area presents a whole lot of alternatives to extend the extent of automation in manufacturing. We’ve large nations like India the place the shift to automated manufacturing is simply beginning. I additionally see Southeast Asia as a beneficiary of firms shifting capability out of China. 


JC: What do you count on by way of development charges for automation globally and in China going ahead?


MP: Financial development is slowing down. I consider the April-June quarter marked the cyclical peak for world equipment orders. China peaked out 12 months earlier than the remainder, extra particularly within the April-June quarter of 2021. 

China was the primary market to recuperate after Covid, so an earlier peak may very well be anticipated. Nevertheless, within the second half of 2021, the nation confronted a whole lot of headwinds. It began with the crackdown on large tech firms, then we had issues within the building trade across the Evergrande disaster. That was once more adopted by energy shortages and rolling blackouts. For China, 2021 was fully a narrative of two halves. 2022 was speculated to be a restoration yr, however Covid lockdowns in Shanghai and different cities put an finish to that anticipated restoration.  

I believed China would have a stronger restoration within the second half of 2022 popping out of lockdowns, however that didn’t occur. The temper on the bottom just isn’t good. Individuals are frightened that lockdowns might occur once more, and that’s having a damaging affect on consumption. 

I see combined developments relying on finish markets. On the constructive facet, the automotive trade recovered quick, and the trade is investing closely in EVs and electrification. On the damaging facet, we’re not seeing a lot funding occurring in smartphones, PCs, and so on. in the meanwhile. Chinese language exporters are additionally nervous about weaker finish markets.


JC: And what about Japan? Is the weaker yen making it extra engaging to supply in Japan?


MP: Japan has an affordable yen, a world-class industrial automation sector, and a proficient workforce. It’s laborious for me to see why the nation wouldn’t be a extremely aggressive manufacturing nation. To date, the weaker yen hasn’t led to a lot of a capex spending growth in Japan, however I believe that might change. 

It’s laborious to be upbeat on Europe in the meanwhile given the power scenario and the affect that might have on consumption and manufacturing. Nevertheless, I believe Japan together with North America may very well be one of many extra promising markets over the following 12 months.


JC: In our earlier interview again in March 2019, you mentioned 2020 can be a restoration yr for robotics and automation demand, and also you additionally mentioned 2019 can be one of the best time to purchase. In hindsight, these predictions have been pretty good. The ROBO index is up 15% thus far within the remaining quarter of 2022. What’s the subsequent shopping for alternative for automation?


MP: Again in 2019, I wasn’t anticipating a world pandemic to hit us in 2020, so I can’t say the whole lot went as deliberate. At present, markets are underneath a whole lot of stress given geopolitical uncertainty, rising rates of interest, and cyclical contraction. 

The world could look completely different, however the attractiveness of automation is arguably even higher than what it was within the earlier cycle. 

I do assume we’re approaching one of the best shopping for alternative for robotics and automation since March 2020. As soon as we enter the second half of 2023, I might count on quite a lot of key main macro-economic indicators to stabilize or backside out. That would result in a fast turnaround in sentiment, so in my view, buyers have a transparent six-month window to get again into the sector at a low value.





1 Information As of 11/29/22




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