The surprisingly strong U.S. economy is paying off well for Italian manufacturers of sophisticated machine tools. Over the past year they have exported 60% of their production to a customer list headed by U.S. and German automotive and aerospace firms. Both output and exports are likely to rise 6% in value in 1999, forecasts UCIMU, the Italian machine tool association. One of the biggest sellers is Gildemeister Italiana's giant multi-spindle lathe for turning out complex automotive parts at high speed. And IEMCA SPA, a producer of machines that feed metal into lathes, is so happy with recent results (the U.S. accounts for 25% of its earnings) that it plans to set up an assembly operation for its machines in the U.S. in the year 2000.