WASHINGTON -- The textile industry could be headed for a period of stability after a year of dramatic job and production declines, according to economists.
Despite a loss of 1,000 jobs from its payrolls in February to 439,000, according to the Labor Department's report Friday, the employment declines stabilized as the average workweek surpassed 40 hours last month.
"There is encouragement going on here if you look at the average hourly workweek, employment and shipment numbers," said Dave Link, chief economist at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. "I have to be cautious, but I do think the numbers suggest now that the textile industry has reached a bottoming out period before a bit of recovery sets in."
Link added that the rebound in the overall economy is having a positive effect on the industry. However, the ailing industry still posted steep losses of 57,000 in February compared with February 2001, falling from 496,000 to 439,000.
In February, the average workweek for the textile industry rose to 40.9 hours, up 1 hour and 12 minutes from January and a half an hour longer than February 2001. "This is the longest workweek for the industry since July 2000," Link said.
Textile mills' shipments were still slightly down in January, the latest figures available, from $3.56 billion in December to $3.54 billion in January.
"The key is we had a string of declines for a year, where every month was down from the prior month, but the past two of four months have posted increases in shipments," said Link. "This is probably a period of up and down until things stabilize and improve."
Meanwhile, apparel manufacturing lost 4,000 jobs from its payrolls in February from 535,000 in January to 531,000 last month. Year-over-year, apparel employment was down by 64,000.
The workweek in February was up 18 minutes to 37.1 hours compared with January, but it was still 30 minutes shorter than in February 2001. Apparel shipments in January reached $5.12 billion against $5.23 billion in December and $5.48 billion in January 2001.
In the overall economy, the unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percent to 5.5 percent in February, as businesses added 66,000 jobs in the month."These were quite excellent numbers," said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research. "It's hard to find something negative."
The largest increase occurred in the retail sector, although most economists once again attributed the increases to the lack of hiring in the fourth quarter and not an actual turnaround.
Department stores, which posted a 53,000 job loss in the fourth quarter last year, turned the tables in January and then again last month with a seasonally adjusted gain of 59,000 to 2.437 million jobs. That number, however was still down by 25,000 compared with February 2001.
Apparel and accessories stores had followed a similar seasonally adjusted pattern last month, but broke away and posted a loss of 6,000 jobs in February to 1.216 million. Compared with February 2001, that number was down by 11,000.
"We are seeing a lot of specialty retailers work very hard to reduce the number of underperforming stores," Steidtmann added.
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