NEW YORK — Celanese Acetate, once the world’s largest producer of acetate fiber, said Tuesday that it planned to close its textile operations, at a cost of about 1,100 jobs.
Keith Nagy, the firm’s director of filament, said the move was forced by a difficult macroeconomic environment for fiber makers.
“It’s a continued deterioration of demand and some of the traditional markets turning over to cheaper polyester,” he said in a phone interview. “Today’s markets could not sustain the prices required to keep business running.”
Filament acetate, a cellulosic fiber made from plant matter, is primarily used for linings, though it also is used in evening dresses and other high-end looks.
The firm plans to close its filament plant in Rock Hill, S.C., early next year, and shutter its Edmonton, Alberta, plant by early 2007. It will continue to sell filament acetate to existing customers until about the middle of next year, Nagy said.
The news marks another blow to the ailing U.S. textile industry, which has faced waves of plant closings and bankruptcies over the past few years. In August, U.S. mill employment stood at 235,700, a 6.4 percent decline from a year earlier. Over the past two weeks, the fiber company Unifi Inc. and fabric mill Delta Woodside Industries disclosed more job cuts.
After closing its filament textile operation, Celanese’s focus will be on producing acetate tow, the staple fiber commonly used to make cigarette filters.
The company plans to close its New York marketing office by Dec. 31.
“The long-term market outlook and the related economic conditions no longer allow us to allocate resources to this product line,” said Doug Madden, president of Celanese Acetate LLC, in a statement. “We will remain committed to ensuring a smooth transition of supply for our filament customers.”
Celanese has been a player in the textile industry since the 1920s, and in recent years remained a significant force in the industry, conducting twice-yearly trend forecasts and for several years sponsoring figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
Still, the surge of competition from Asian textile makers in recent years, which have proven able to undercut the prices of their Western competitors, took a clear toll on Celanese’s margins. That pressure is seen intensifying after the 148 nations of the World Trade Organization drop their apparel and textile quotas on Jan. 1, an event that is expected to trigger even greater price competition.
In recent years, Celanese’s ownership has changed several times.
The firm was spun off to the public by its former parent, Germany’s Hoechst, in 1999. Early this year it was acquired by Blackstone Capital Partners, in a deal valued at $3.82 billion. The overall Celanese group has annual sales of $4.6 billion, a figure that includes the chemical and technical polymer businesses, in addition to acetate.