Mixed Results In First Quarter; April Starts Strong
Jim Phillips, Yarn Market Editor
The first quarter of 2014 was a mixed bag for many spinners. Demand at the start of the year was weaker than expected, primarily as a result of inventory adjustment by customers.
“When we talk about inventory adjustments, the first thought that comes to mind is that demand is weakening or that customers have over-ordered,” said one observer. “But that is not always the case. Earlier this year, for example, some spinners saw a drop-off of orders because several weavers were dealing with consolidation and mergers among their clients. It was just a matter of waiting for the new, integrated enterprises to determine their needs. Once that happened, demand for cloth increased and it was back to business as usual.”
As March came to a close, business was back on track, with spinners reporting high demand and healthy backlogs. Commented a spinner: “The first quarter for us was not bad by any means, but it wasn’t quite as strong as we had expected. But things picked up quickly, and now we have a very robust pipeline.”
A yarn broker added: “Yarn supply is tight right now. Ring-spun cotton is in very short supply. I was in Central America last week, and they are all busy, too. It is a challenge at the moment to be able to fulfill customer orders. I’ve lost a number of contracts lately simply because I could not find the yarn. I have even had a lot of inquiries about open-end (OE) yarn, and that usually doesn’t happen in my business. When customers are asking if I can find OE for them, I know that the market is very tight.”
Spinners and brokers also report continued high demand for blended yarns. “With demand for cotton yarns so high, increasing cotton prices and some long-term concern about cotton supply, some customers are turning to blends. We saw this several years ago when the price of cotton escalated rapidly. And if cotton prices continue to escalate, I think we will see more activity in this direction.”
Demand Versus Capacity
Much has been written about demand versus capacity in the U.S. yarn market. Over the past 20 years, the number of U.S. spindles steadily decreased until manufacturing capacity was in rough alignment with domestic demand. Over the past few years, however, demand spikes have on occasion put tremendous pressure on manufacturers and customers alike. In a worst-case scenario — as happened in 2010 — customers anticipate a future product shortage and begin panic buying. As a result, prices soar at every point in the supply chain. Then, when either the product shortage or anticipated demand do not materialize, customers cancel orders. This, in turn, leaves suppliers with high-priced inventory that the market no longer wants.
However, for the first time in recent years, new plants are coming on line that could help alleviate this issue and contribute to more long-term stability. Moreover, industry experts contend increased capacity will be vital if the grassroots Made in USA program continues to gain momentum. Already, a number of retailers have set up separate departments or kiosks devoted exclusively to U.S.-made textiles and apparel.
“There is a lot of talk about business coming back here,” said one industry insider. “I don’t know how long it is going to take for that to happen, but I know a lot of people are working on Made in USA programs. Part of this is consumer-driven, as retail customers pay increasing attention to country of origin, sustainability, traceability and transparency. But a lot is also driven by customers who continue to see their costs in Asia go up. With reduced transportation and inventory costs, it is beginning to make more sense for many companies to return their programs to the United States.”
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