The nonwovens industry in North America, like other industries, has had challenges in this economic downturn. The American people hope that the United States¡¯ new administration and new president are successful in turning our economy around and providing opportunities for our nonwovens industry.
The U.S. economy was down at the end of 2008, with a drop of 6.4% in the fourth quarter alone, and will continue to be sluggish in 2009. GDP may continue to drop an additional 3% in 2009. The U.S. dollar has strengthened against most foreign currencies, which makes imports less costly but exports more expensive. Overall trade has slowed down and because the United States is such a large importer of goods our overall balance of trade has improved.
Trade is an important part of the North American nonwovens business. U.S. companies export 268,750 tons of nonwoven fabrics and import about 167,800 tons. Our largest trading partners are within NAFTA and we exchange more with Canada and Mexico than any other trading partners. The nonwovens industry has suffered a reduction in trade just like other industries in the NAFTA region.
Fourth quarter trade data indicates that imports were down 6.5% in value, down 7.5% in tons and exports were down even more at minus 11.7% of value and minus 13.9% of tons. Exports are about 60% larger than imports in this category. This is an important part of our business.
The other big news in the NAFTA region is the United States¡¯ stimulus package that was passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Any incentive for Americans to buy new cars will increase the consumption of nonwoven fabrics. Each car contains about 15 kg of fabrics. Another area of opportunity is in geotextiles. If the stimulus package funds local road and bridge repair, good growth in this segment of our industry will develop. The baby products, medical products, filtration and consumer wiping segments don¡¯t react as strongly to economic downturns and will be fairly stable during 2009.
With the global economies struggling to endure, many companies will hunker down and ride this recession out. But, this is also a time to look for opportunities, to invest in the future, to be prepared for the recovery that will indeed come.
I know of several companies that have investment plans for new equipment or new products that are on the threshold of launching. My counsel is to move boldly forward and take this opportunity to install new lines and be prepared for this recovery.
My general manager from my early Johnson & Johnson days once told us at a staff meeting that ¡°anyone can run the business when times are good, but it takes talent and innovation to run the business when times are bad.¡± It also takes courage. The strong companies with courageous and talented leadership will succeed in increasing their share and status during this economic downturn.
Rory Holmes, President
INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry
* NAFTA includes Canada, Mexico and the United States.