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Shipment of fibers to nonwovens reported for 2002: after falling in 2001, fiber sales were flat last year.

After falling from record levels in 2001, fiber shipments to nonwovens halted their descent last year, remaining flat. Of the three major fiber types, only olefin recorded a slight decrease, down nearly 2% from 2001. It was the second consecutive down year for olefin, which had recorded steady increases for much of the past decade. Meanwhile, polyester, a fiber that has been seeing decreasing sales to the nonwovens industry in recent years, recorded a slight 2% increase. Meanwile rayon shipments climbed just more than 1% after dropping a whopping 10% last year.

According to data recently released by the Fiber Economics Bureau (FEB), sales of olefin, polyester and rayon staple totaled 828 million pounds, virtually unchanged from the 2001 total. The comparison of the two years is (million pounds):
 2001 2002

Olefin 466 459
Polyester 298 306
Rayon 62 63

Total 826 828

There have been occasional questions regarding the coverage of the above figures. They represent domestic fiber producers' shipments of staple to U.S. producers of dry and wetlaid nonwovens as well as needled batts. They do not include any quantities of imported staple because no data on the distribution of imported fiber by trade are available. Keep in mind that they refer only to fiber in staple form--there is a large quantity of filament and/or monofilament used in the various inline processes about which information is unavailable.

Olefin staple, which had been increasing its share of the market at polyester's expense for several years, declined slightly last year. In 2001, olefin had 56% of the market against polyester's 36%. Last year, olefin's share dropped to 55% with a corresponding increase for polyester. Whether this was a temporary wrinkle or the beginning of a share-of-market switch is unclear, though the temporary wrinkle explanation is probably closer to the truth. Many factors can influence a shift in market shares over a relatively brief period. For example, an increase in demand for dyeable goods would tend to favor polyester, which can be piece-dyed, over olefm which must be dope-dyed or used in its natural state. A change in the opposite direction would tend to favor olefin. Olefin, which has always been heavily dependent on nonwovens customers for its sales, remains so (63% of olefin staple last year went to the nonwovens industry). But, in 2001, nonwovens accounted for 69% of olefin shipments. Part of the reason was th at olefin sales to the carpet backing trade increased in 2002- but the largest sales increase was in the unclassified category. We hope that in the future some light will be shed on this, but for the moment the olefin staple sales distribution is shown in Table 2.

For polyester, the dependence upon nonwovens has always been much less than for olefin. This is another way of saying that polyester's markets are more highly diversified. But, polyester staple's main markets have been drastically impacted by import competition, much of it in the form of finishing products (apparel and home furnishings). Imports in that form bypass every link in the soft goods chains, except for the retailer. This distribution of polyester staple domestic shipments by trade is shown in Table 3.

In recent years, sales of polyester staple in the U.S. have been dropping by an average of more than 90 million pounds annually, with knit and broad woven fabrics being the dominant element. Weaving mills particularly have been closing in large numbers, with the gap being filled by imports.

In the past, the nonwovens business has fared better than the textile markets in both prosperous and lean times. The 2001-2002 picture, however, was mixed. For olefin, shipments to the textile markets held up better than sales to nonwovens producers. Textile type sales rose 28%, due to the improved business in carpet face yarns and all other uses noted above. Sales to nonwovens declined, as noted, by 2%. In polyester, sales to textile markets dropped 4% while nonwovens business increased 3%. Taking the two fibers together, there was virtually no change.

Fiberfill Notes

In contrast to the flatness in nonwoyeas, polyester fiberfill business enjoyed a record-breaking year. Shipments reached 436 million pounds, up 10% (38 million pounds) and 16 million pounds ahead of the previous record year of 2000, when sales aggregated 421 million pounds. Unlike nonwovens, the polyester fiberfill business consists of a branded and a generic component. In the past, there were heavy promotions at the consumer level to persuade shoppers to buy branded polyester. But, such promotions have declined sharply in importance as profit margins in polyester fiber have diminished. Indeed, the largest domestic producer has decided to exit the business entirely in the near-term future.

Producers' Shipments Of Staple To Nonwovens (1992-2002)

(millions of pounds, # of total)

Year Rayon Polyester Olefin Total

1992 70(12) 244(43) 259(45) 573
1993 70(11) 263(43) 276(46) 609
1994 64(10) 280(45) 280(45) 624
1995 60(10) 280(46) 267(44) 607
1996 57(9) 285(45) 295(46) 637
1997 58(9) 285(43) 314(48) 657
1998 60(9) 292(42) 339(49) 691
1999 64(8) 276(35) 454(57) 794
2000 66(8) 265(32) 493(60) 824
2001 60(8) 240(31) 466(61) 766
2002 63(8) 306(37) 459(55)

Source: Fiber Economics Bureau (Rayon figures are estimated)


Distribution Of Polyester Staple Domestic Shipments

(millions of pounds)

 2001 2002 Change

Knit Fabrics 316 282 -34
Broad Woven Fabrics 476 395 -81
Carpet Face Yarn 313 328 15
Fiberfill 398 436 38
Nonwovens 298 306 8
All other 77 76 -1

Total 1878 1823 -55

Source: Fiber Economics Bureau


Olefin Staple Fiber Distribution

 2001 2002 Change

Broad woven fabrics 35 30 -5
Carpet Backing 170 191 21
Nonwovens 466 459 -7
All other 3 43 40
Total 674 723 49

Source: Fiber Economics Bureau
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Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Previous Article:Imports to Brazil continue slide: increased domestic output and devalued Real contribute to decline. (South American Report).
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