The Australian wool market, at least in the minds of some operators, continued to defy logic and remained strong last week.
Although there are plenty of reasons that the wool market is buoyant and performing well, it is pleasantly surprising to some that it is able to remain so.
Negative factors are growing, but to date these have been unable to turn the tide.
We have seen large volumes of wool supply, with the past four weeks all having initial auction rosters above the psychological 50,000-bale barrier.
In the past, this has been enough to create a dip in prices.
Wet conditions and excess feed have certainly led to an increase in burr, cot and colour throughout the clip, and the percentage of these wools has increased in 2022, yet the market continues to thrive and absorb many of these lower style wools without too much concern.
Wet weather has also conspired to delay shearing for long enough to produce a noticeable increase in staple length, which is a concern for topmakers around the world.
But as yet these over-long wools are being purchased and processed without excessive discounts.
The geopolitical risk needle has entered the red zone.
But, to a large degree, the wool market has been able to ignore it - or at least go about normal business while just keeping one eye on proceedings in Ukraine.
Currency volatility, typically the bane of the exporting fraternity, has been an issue to contend with.
But, to date, this has not had a measurable effect on wool prices in the Australian market.
Throw in a bit of shipping turmoil and the calm, measured performance of the Australian wool market is quite a feat.
At the end of the selling week in Australia last week the wool market had managed to gain six cents a kilogram as measured by the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) Eastern Market Indicator (EMI), and picked up 8c/kg in US currency.
European buyers faced a much more significant jump in prices with a rise of 21 Euro cents, as the single region's currency hit 20-month lows against the US Dollar.
The Australian Dollar initially climbed above the US0.74 cents mark, before thankfully easing on the eve of wool sales - back to below US0.73 cents again. But it certainly remains volatile.
The whole gamut of Australian wools closed the week in positive territory, with everything moving more or less upwards by the same percentage.
So, in nominal terms, the superfine Merino categories closed up by 20c/kg, although the Melbourne movements were more subdued.
Medium Merino types were generally 15c/kg dearer, as were skirtings.
Crossbred wools gained 5c/kg and carding wools generally added 10c/kg.
Again, those wools with sustainable certification were keenly sought after across the range of types - with even crossbred wools or stains that carried a certificate bringing-in a large premium.
South Africa held a relatively high volume sale, with slightly more than 13,000 bales being offered.
Of these, just over 50 per cent of the Merino wool was certified by one sustainable scheme or another.
Comparatively, the Australian catalogues contained a combined 600-odd bales of these wools.
The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, and the minds of many, and particularly in Europe which is so much closer to the action than we are in Australia.
Initially it seemed like the situation there would overwhelm the European textile scene, and it may still have a negative effect. But business has picked up again after the early temporary decline.
Wooltop sales to spinners have been brisk and are keeping topmakers and exporters busy.
The levels of consumer confidence down the track will still be tested, particularly after they have paid their energy bills.
While Australian consumers are increasingly vocal about the rising petrol prices, spare a thought for European consumers who are paying north of $3.50 per litre for their fuel.
Add to that the significant heating bills which most households must pay, and which will now be up to 100pc higher than last year.
Exactly how much these costs eat into discretionary incomes when September/October roll around and retailers try to sell the products currently in production is a risk worrying the textile community across Europe.
At present the sector continues to proceed with established plans.
But at some point, the axe may fall.
Chinese processors also have one eye on the Ukraine situation, and are watching developments carefully.
But they are also grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks which spasmodically close down parts of their country.
The labour force has largely returned following the spring festival, but many mills are reporting that they have had to increase salaries in order to entice the workers back into the factories.
Average salaries for textile workers have reportedly risen from 4800-5500 RMB per month ($1050-1200) to 6000 RMB, or even 6500 for those mills that are in desperate need of workers.
As in every other part of the world, Chinese mills also face higher energy costs.
Processing wool requires energy at every step of the process.
But it is particularly high in the dyeing stage where both temperature and pressure requirements make the electricity meter spin very fast.
Thus, processing costs are rising, adding further to the final cost of garments, and increasing price pressure or resistance at a retail level.
It will not help those selling woollen garments, but the price pressure in the cotton and polyester industries is far greater than for wool - with raw material costs for those fibres reaching extreme levels.
So, the outlook for Australian wool prices remains favourable in the short-term, pending currency movements or a deterioration in the Ukrainian situation.
But the ramifications of the current environment will reverberate down the processing pipeline and may or may not bring about a correction later in the year.
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