The last year has been pretty dire for the camera industry, as the impact of COVID forced a general shutdown of manufacturing and sales outlets. As parts of the global economy have reopened, we have seen the shoots of revival start to spring up. Will the camera industry return to its 2019 pre-COVID levels?
Last year was an annus horibilis for the manufacturing sector generally and camera manufacturers specifically. There is no way to dress up a drop in units shipped from 14.8 million to 8.7 million (41% drop) as anything other than disastrous. Consumers walked away from the market as COVID hit in March and sales channels were effectively closed. That said, after the May low-point, there was a bump in shipments that saw some recovery through to September, at which point, it pretty much tracked 2019 shipments, albeit some 20% lower. The question is, has this trend continued since then? Looking at the chart below, the answer appears to be yes. As in previous years, there was an October spike before dropping back (post-Christmas spending slump) until March, at which point, it picks up again. Ignoring the 2020 COVID year, which is unique, we seem to be tracking shipments that are similar to previous years.
The split between compacts, DSLRs, and MILCs shows a -8%, 6%, and 30% change, respectively, on the previous year, which again reflects the continued decline of compacts and increasingly dominant mirrorless shipments (nearly 30% more units than DSLRs). However, while the value of those aging DSLRs is actually down 11%, the value of mirrorless shipments is actually up 55%, again reflecting newer, more expensive models.
Given what we have seen in the first quarter so far, is this a positive outlook? Much of Europe and North America has been in some form of lockdown or restricted movement, which means that sales channels are still not operating at capacity, although that's obviously not to say that cameras aren't selling, just that there are fewer opportunities in which to use them. There are a few points to note looking back over the last few years. Firstly, the gap between the October through March shipments has narrowed year on year, which also suggests a slowing in the fall in camera shipments. Are we possibly reaching a base level of camera production? Secondly, the March shipments are perhaps not rising as quickly as in previous years, which hints at a slow post-Christmas recovery. That may be expected, and the possible good news is that economies are predicting boom times ahead, with the UK and US expecting their fastest growth in decades. Barclays Bank boss Jes Staley expects the fastest growth since 1948, in part funded by the some £200 billion sitting in personal and business accounts in the UK. Combine this with the higher retail prices of new mirrorless models and potentially better margins, and it could well be a good year for camera manufacturers. Are the good times about to return, even if only for a year or two?