China data indicates challenges ahead and a need for industry collaboration

Sweet signs but wool's rocky road set to continue

Sheep
Latest data from China highlights that the next six months will be challenging for Australia's wool industry - requiring all players to work together to grasp any opportunities.

Latest data from China highlights that the next six months will be challenging for Australia's wool industry - requiring all players to work together to grasp any opportunities.

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NCWSB says latest China data indicates rocky road ahead for wool and a need for collaboration.

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After a relentless decline in wool prices, it was encouraging to see the market improve a little in the last two weeks of auctions before the traditional July recess.

It has been a hugely challenging 12 months for all involved in the Australian wool industry - growers, brokers and merchants, buyers and exporters.

The past six months have been the worst conditions experienced for many, many years.

Unfortunately, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Victoria reminds us all that there is still a long way to go

This is reinforced by the latest statistics from China on its exports of wool products, including wool clothing, this year.

Unsurprisingly, it provides a rather grim picture of the trade situation for China's wool textile industry - reflecting the extremely difficult demand situation given the COVID-19 pandemic.

China's exports of wool products (including top, yarn, fabric and clothing) accounts for about half of the raw wool that the country imports each year.

China is also the largest world supplier of wool clothing, accounting for one third - or even more - of global trade in wool clothing.

Regrettably, China's exports of wool products have slumped in the first four months of 2020. The decline has been most intense in exports of wool clothing and wool fabric.

China's exports of woven wool clothing were down by 35 per cent in the January-April period and exports of wool knitwear fell 30 per cent.

Its exports of wool fabric fell by 35 per cent in the January-April period this year, while exports of wool yarn were down by 15 per cent.

Exports of wool top by China performed best, only falling by 6 per cent in the first four months of 2020.

In terms of destinations of exports of wool clothing, exports to the US fell the most - down by 71 per cent - and exports to Hong Kong were down 69 per cent.

China's exports to Japan and the European Union were both down by 31 per cent, but exports to South Korea rose 2 per cent.

For wool fabric, all destinations recorded significant declines - including a 52 per cent drop in exports to Vietnam - although exports to the EU were only down by 10 per cent.

For wool yarn, China's exports to South Korea were 48 per cent higher and exports to the ASEAN countries were only down by 3 per cent. China's exports to the EU, in contrast, were down by 56 per cent.

Wool top exports from the country were boosted by a 168 per cent jump in sales to the ASEAN countries, as well as a 38 per cent lift in exports to 'other' countries. This offset the 29 per cent drop in exports to the EU, the largest destination.

These declines reflect the collapse in retail demand in many of the world's major wool clothing consuming countries.

The latest data shows that, for the year to May, retail sales have plummeted in most countries.

The exceptions are Germany and, to a lesser extent, South Korea. But elsewhere, the declines are gob-smacking.

Japan recorded a 37 per cent drop in clothing retail sales in the five months from January to May, and the United Kingdom had a 29 per cent drop.

Clothing retail sales in the United States were down by 17 per cent and both Italy and France had a 10 per cent contraction.

China, the world's largest retail market for wool clothing, reports that clothing retail sales were 26 per cent below levels of 2019.

The more positive news from China is that retail sales in May were virtually on par with the month of May 2019.

And there are reports that retailing is recovering in China, which is more positive news.

Hopefully, the sector will have recovered more before October - when the crucial autumn-winter season begins. This prospect may encourage Chinese retailers to lift their orders now to prepare.

Hopefully, we will also start to see a recovery in some other countries as they slowly ease pandemic restrictions, although this will probably come too late to help demand for raw wool in the near-term.

One thing that may assist a recovery in raw wool demand is that wool's price ratio against cotton and synthetics has dropped sharply in the past three months.

The fall is particularly marked compared with cotton prices - with the current ratio below the average level seen in the 10 years between 2010 and 2019 - and is at the lowest level since June 2014.

The decline in wool's price ratio compared with the major synthetic fibres used in apparel (acrylic and polyester staple fibre) hasn't been as marked.

The decline in the price ratio means that wool's competitiveness has improved, which may help support wool prices through increased demand from mills.

The challenges facing the Australian wool industry during the next six months will be intense.

It is vital that all in the local industry understand the current global situation and the challenges this presents, then work together to meet the challenges and grasp the bright opportunities for wool as these unfold during the re-start.

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