IMPORT SURGE CONTINUES

NEW YORK — Imports of textiles and apparel continued to outpace U.S. exports in the first quarter, according to economic data released last week by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
In volume terms, U.S. imports of textiles and apparel rose 17.9 percent, to 7.82 billion square-meters equivalent, up from 6.63 billion SME in the year-earlier quarter. In dollar terms, imports hit $18 billion, up 11.9 percent from $16.13 billion.
Over the same time frame, exports rose 5.4 percent, to $4.45 billion, from $4.22 billion. The government does not track export volume by SME.
“It is obvious that our domestic textile and apparel market is at the top of every country’s list of ‘favorite places to export to,”‘ said a statement from ATMI president Roger W. Chastain, who also serves as president and chief operating officer of Mount Vernon Mills Inc., of Greenville, S.C.
However, he added, “After many months of difficult times, we are starting to see improvement in some key areas, such as fiber consumption and new textile orders.
The group pointed out a few highlights:
Orders in the first quarter were 7 percent ahead of the prior-year quarter and 3 percent ahead of the fourth quarter.
The average workweek hit 41.4 hours during the quarter, 48 minutes longer than the first quarter of 1999 and 12 minutes longer than the fourth quarter.
However, not all of the news was unequivocally good:
On a year-over-year basis, cotton consumption was off 9 percent, though quarter-to-quarter it was up 5.7 percent.
Employment continued to drop: At the end of April, 548,000 workers were employed by the textile industry, off 3 percent from the comparable period a year ago.
Sales and profitability for the industry also continued to erode, the group said. According to the most recent government data, private and public textile companies’ net profits in the fourth quarter were $130 million, off 57.1 percent from $303 million a year ago. That came on a slight decline in sales, from $14.86 billion to $14.85 billion.
For the year, the picture is much the same. Profits for 1999 were $770 million, off 63 percent from $2.08 billion. Sales were $60.83 billion, off 5.2 percent from $64.16 billion.