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Covid-19 has severely impacted global furniture trade growth – yet recovery is imminent, reports Milan’s Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) in its latest World Furniture Outlook.

2020 has been a challenging year for the furniture sector, hit by the pandemic both on the demand and supply side. The lockdown policies and their length varied across countries, segments of production and retail activities.

World furniture consumption is estimated to decrease by -10% in 2020 (in current US$). For the first time, all regions are projected to experience negative growth in 2020, with differences across countries reflecting different economic structures (dependence on severely affected sectors, external financial flows and pre-crisis performances) and containment reactions facing the pandemic’s evolution.

Some trends that were already present across the sector accelerated during the year, impacting companies’ strategies. On the consumption side, the role of the online channel increased at unprecedented growth rates, while leading manufacturers entered the market directly.

On the production side, supplied products (for example in office spaces, home office, multi-functionality, antibacterial surfaces, consumer wellbeing, etc) are evolving, and could represent growth potential for the future.

Production and consumption

The main furniture producer is China, with 41% of world furniture production. Other major furniture manufacturing countries are the US, Germany and Italy. From 2011 to 2020, the furniture production share of Asia and Pacific increased by about 11 percentage points. As a consequence, in 2020, more than half of the world’s furniture production took place in Asia and the Pacific.

The leading importers of furniture are the US, Germany, France, the UK and Japan. Until 2018, the increase in imports in the US was the main engine of growth in the international trade of furniture. The decrease in US furniture imports in 2019 was mainly due to trade restrictions. Because of trade tensions between the US and China, total US furniture imports from Asia saw China’s share decrease, in favour of other import sources (Vietnam in particular). Preliminary data for 2020 shows substantial decreases in furniture imports for all major countries.

The biggest furniture exporting country is China, followed at a distance by Vietnam, Poland, Germany and Italy.

In the last 10 years, the international trade of furniture has consistently amounted to about 1% of the international trade of manufactures. After the major contraction in 2020, growth will resume in 2021, and the pre-crisis level, in current US$, is expected to be attained in 2022.

CSIL assumes that global GDP (in real terms) will grow by +5.2% in 2021 and +4.2% in 2022 – in advanced economies it will rise by +3.9% in 2021 and +2.9% in 2022, and in emerging and developing economies it will grow by +6.0% in 2021 and +5.1% in 2022.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the decrease of world GDP due to the pandemic in 2020 can be estimated at -4.4%, with a more severe contraction in advanced economies than in developing countries. Growth is expected to resume in 2021-22, but uncertainties regarding the evolution of the pandemic remain high, and the downside risks remain significant.

For 2021, the growth of furniture consumption above the depressed levels of 2020 is expected worldwide. Among large markets (over US$5b of furniture consumption) the countries expected to have a greater rebound in furniture consumption growth are China and India.

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