NEW YORK — Last year was another tough one for the U.S. textile industry, though the nation’s mills managed, on a whole, to score improvements in sales and earnings.

According to the American Textile Manufacturers Institute’s yearend economic report, released Tuesday, the industry’s aftertax profits in 2002 came in at $1 billion, up fivefold from $200 million in 2001. Corporate sales for all classes of textile products, including those destined for home and industrial use, as well as apparel fabrics, rose 1.7 percent to $48 billion.

The industry’s profits have climbed significantly since 2000, when heavy restructuring charges at a number of major mills left the sector $300 million in the red. Overall textile mill shipments, which include only fabrics and exclude items made of fabric, were down 4.9 percent to $42.7 billion.

Total industry employment fell 9.6 percent to 432,000. But for the workers who remained, paychecks rose, as the average workweek grew 3 percent to 41.2 hours and hourly earnings rose 3.3 percent to $11.74. Weekly earnings were up 6.7 percent to $484.06.

Deflationary pressures on the sector remained strong, the ATMI said. It said that its index of Asian currencies, weighted to take into account the size of their textile exports, stood at 0.62 percent to the dollar, up from 0.60 to the dollar last year. That’s still off from the benchmark year of 1996, when the index was created at 1 to the dollar. The ATMI said overall Asian yarn prices fell 13.5 percent last year, while apparel prices slipped 11 percent and fabric prices fell 16 percent.

Evidence of this pressure is seen in import figures. As measured by square meters equivalent, U.S. textile and apparel imports last year were up 12.2 percent to 36.81 billion SMEs. But on a dollar bass, they slipped 0.9 percent to $77.83 billion.

As a result of this pressure, the Producer Price Index for textiles ended the year at 121.1, down 1.3 percent from a year earlier. The benchmark year for the PPI is 1982.

Meanwhile, U.S. textile exports fell 5.5 percent to $15.71 billion.

ATMI chairman Van May, who also serves as president and chief executive officer of the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, said the statistics show the ailing industry is in need of support."Our country is facing serious challenges in the war on terrorism," he said.

Referring the ATMI’s eight-point action plan for reviving the industry released earlier this year, he continued, "Our elected officials must take the steps we have recommended to enable the American textile industry — an absolutely critical part of our nation’s defense industrial base — to remain competitive and thus able to continue to support our homeland security."

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