Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Industrial Organization

Industrial organization in Portugal reflected three major ownership patterns: private domestic firms were concentrated in traditional, light industries and in construction; public enterprises dominated mining and major heavy industries, mainly iron and steel, petrochemicals, shipbuilding, petroleum refining, and electricity; and subsidiaries of multinational corporations dominated the technically more advanced electronics, automotive, pharmaceutical, and electrical machinery industries. The foreign investor presence was also important in the pulp and paper, chemical, food products, and clothing industries.

In general, the traditional light industries--textiles, clothing and footwear, food and beverages, cork products, and furniture--were labor intensive and technologically backward. Within this group, however, the medium-sized establishments (between 100 and 200 employees) enjoyed superior management capabilities and higher levels of productivity.

The Portuguese construction industry, which was largely unaffected by the 1975 nationalizations, emerged in the late 1980s from several years of recession. Since the mid-1980s, EC and local counterpart funds have financed a variety of infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, and sewage and water treatment plants. Commercial building and house construction was also on an upward trend after that time.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, of the twenty-five largest industrial firms ranked by sales in 1986, ten were public enterprises (including nine of the largest ten), and nine were subsidiaries of foreign-owned firms. Significantly, by the mid-1980s, over one-fifth of Portuguese manufacturing sales were by subsidiaries of multinational firms, with their export share even higher. Seven of the ten largest manufacturing export-oriented firms were controlled by foreign investors.

By the mid-1980s, the large industrial public enterprises faced extremely difficult financial problems associated with earlier errors in investment and pricing policies. After the second oil shock, many of these enterprises borrowed heavily abroad to finance investment projects, which often were poorly conceived and poorly managed. In 1986 operating losses of Quimigal (chemicals), Siderurgia Nacional (steel), and the shipbuilding company Estaleiros Navais de Setúbal (Setenave) totaled 29 billion escudos, or 30 percent of total public enterprise losses.

As a result of their excessive dependence on debt financing, Quimigal and Setenave, as well as Companhia Nacional de Petroquímica (CNP), a state-owned petrochemical enterprise, had a negative equity or net worth position (i.e., their debts exceeded their assets). Many of these firms in the mid-1980s were overstaffed and had concluded wage settlements that were generally higher than in the private sector.

The major state-owned industrial enterprises were candidates for ultimate privatization. In anticipation of their divestiture, they underwent financial and managerial restructuring in the late 1980s. As an example, loss-making enterprises such as CNP and Setenave had been operating under private management contracts to make them viable for privatization. Two major privatizations were announced at the end of 1990: Siderurgia Nacional and Petrogal (the largest state-owned petrochemical firm). To assure that the national steel company could operate successfully within the EC's single market, the Portuguese government was considering selling Siderurgia Nacional to a leading European steelmaker, preferably linked to a Portuguese minority partner.

Data as of January 1993