Fiber sales are flat: shipments remain unchanged in third quarter. (Fibers Quarter).
For the first nine months of 2002, sales were just about even with the corresponding months of 2001. The data, which is shown in Table 1, shows that 2001 was a poor year for nonwovens (and a worse one for many other industries). Some encouragement may therefore be derived from the fact that 2002 really showed no further signs of deterioration in the business.
As for interfiber competition, olefin has been taking market-share from polyester for a number of years now. Unless confirmed by later developments, the slight gain by polyester in the January-September 2002 period is probably trivial. Olefin continues to be heavily dependent on the nonwovens industry for sales. During the first nine months of last year, 64% of all olefin staple sold went to nonwovens. The only other major use for olefin staple is carpet backing, where it is needled into the backing fabric to prevent grinning.
Polyester, on the other hand, has outlets in weaving and knitting, which are more important in poundage than nonwovens. Thus, only 16% of polyester sales depend on the nonwovens industry. Broad woven fabrics account for 25% of sales, fiberfill makes up 21% and knit goods and carpets contribute about 17% each.
More often than not, nonwovens outperform the conventional textile uses for olefin and polyester. In a rising market, they usually increase more, while, in a declining environment, they drop less than the other uses. This time, nonwovens fared a little better than the conventional markets, but the difference is so slight that it's insignificant to all except those who like decimals and percentages.
Barring an unlikely surge of sales in the final quarter of the year, it appears that 2002 shipments of the three fibers will turn out to be just about the same as the previous year, i.e. 780 million pounds, plus or minus 5 million.
After a slow year in 2001 (sales were down 55 million pounds or 12% versus 2000), the fiberfill business improved in the first three quarters of 2002. Shipments were 323 pounds, 20 million pounds more than the same period of 200q. Even assuming there was no big increase in sales during the final quarter, 2002 should see fiberfill sales at around 430 pounds, making it the second best year for sales. The record was set in 2000, when shipments reached 453 million pounds.
TABLE I Fiber Shipments Olefin Polyester Rayon Total Jan.-Sept. 2002 345 (55%) 231 (37%) 47 (8%) 623 Jan.-Sept. 2001 348 (56%) 227 (36%) 47 (8%) 622 Change (mil. pounds) -3 +4 -- +1 (%) -1 +2 -- -- source: Fiber Economics Bureau
David Harrison, now retired, spent most of his working life in the manmade fiber and textile industries. A former director of member services at JNDA, he also spent a number of years in consulting work where he served clients in the soft goods industry. His column, Fibers Quarter, appears in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY four times a year.