Cotton Outlook: U.S. Net Textile, Apparel Imports Reach Record in 2015

U.S. net textile and apparel fiber imports increased for a third consecutive calendar year in 2015 to their highest on record, reaching 15.7 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds, compared with 14.5 billion pounds in 2014. Total fiber product imports reached 19.4 billion pounds in 2015—also a record and nearly 7 percent above 2014. Total product exports, on the other hand, were unchanged for the third consecutive year in 2015 at 3.7 billion pounds.

U.S. net imports consist mostly of cotton and manmade fiber products, as demand for linen, wool, and silk products remains relatively small. With manmade fiber imports expanding steadily in recent years, cotton’s share has declined consistently. In 2015, cotton textile and apparel products accounted for 44 percent of the total, while manmade fibers contributed nearly 49 percent. By comparison, cotton contributed 54 percent of the total 5 years ago, compared with manmade fibers’ share of 40 percent.

Domestic Outlook

U.S. Cotton Supply and Demand Unchanged in March

The U.S. cotton crop for 2015/16 remains estimated at 12.9 million bales (upland at 12.5 million bales and extra-long staple at 435,000 bales), compared with last season’s 16.3 million bales; however, the 2015 crop is similar to 2013. (USDA will release the final U.S. cotton production estimate for the 2015 crop on May 10th.) Based on the current crop estimate and beginning stocks of 3.7 million bales, the 2015/16 cotton supply totaled about 16.7 million bales, 11 percent below a year ago and the smallest since 1984/85.

As a result of the lower supply, total demand for U.S. cotton is also the lowest in three decades. For 2015/16, U.S. cotton demand is estimated at 13.1 million bales, the lowest since 1985/86 when demand totaled only 8.4 million bales. While U.S. mill use in 2015/16 remains estimated near the year-ago level, exports are forecast to decline considerably.

Through the first 6 months of 2015/16, U.S. textile mills used 1.7 million bales of cotton, similar to the amount used during the first half of 2014/15. In addition, mill use during the second half of the season is expected to remain similar to year-ago levels.

On the other hand, U.S. cotton exports in 2015/16 are forecast to decline more than 15 percent; decreased supplies in the United States—along with the lowest foreign import demand in 7 years—are expected to keep U.S. exports 2 million bales below the 3-year average.

As a result, the U.S. share of world trade is forecast to decrease from 32 percent in 2014/15 to 27 percent this season.

U.S. cotton export commitments through the first 7 months of 2015/16 reached 7.2 million bales. Shipments, however, have only totaled 4 million bales—or 42 percent of the export forecast. At the comparable period during the previous marketing year, shipments had reached 44 percent of final exports.

With slow shipments during the first half of the season, shipments will need to average approximately 250,000 per week to make the 9.5-million-bale estimate.

With U.S. cotton demand slightly above production this season, stocks are estimated to decline marginally. For 2015/16, U.S. ending stocks are projected at 3.6 million bales, 100,000 bales or 3 percent below 2014/15. Based on the supply and demand estimates, the 2015/16 stocks-to-use ratio is projected to rise to 27.5 percent, the highest in 7 years.

Despite reduced global production, stagnant demand and uncertainties about China’s reserve stocks have pushed prices lower this season. The average price received by U.S. upland cotton producers is expected to decline slightly from 2014/15’s 61.3 cents per pound to range between 58 and 60 cents per pound. At the midpoint of 59 cents per pound, U.S. prices would be the lowest since 2008/09.

U.S. Retail Cotton Consumption Expands in 2015

U.S. domestic cotton consumption (mill use plus net textile imports) grew 4 percent in calendar 2015 to nearly 8.7 billion (raw-fiber-equivalent) pounds, or about 18.1 million bale-equivalents. The 2015 level represents the highest in 5 years, despite cotton having lost fiber share in apparel product construction to manmade fibers recently. However, the 2015 retail cotton consumption estimate remains 20 percent below the record of 10.9 billion pounds set in calendar 2006.

U.S. cotton product imports and exports both moved higher in 2015. Imports grew about 4.5 percent to nearly 8.8 billion pounds in calendar year 2015; similarly, cotton product exports increased 3 percent to 1.8 billion pounds. Meanwhile, U.S. cotton mill use remained stable in 2015 at 1.7 billion pounds. As a result, the U.S. per capita estimate of retail cotton consumption increased nearly a pound to 27 pounds in 2015, with U.S. mill use of cotton accounting for just over 5 pounds of the total.

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