Report Highlights:

Cotton imports in MY2013/14 are likely to fall due to the stagnant domestic economy. Higher spinning activity in MY2014/15 could increase import demand for raw cotton to 1.6 – 1.7 million bales.

Executive Summary:

Cotton imports in Marketing Year (MY) 2012/13 increased 19 percent to 1.5 million bales as spinning mills experienced greater demand for cotton yarn and the Thai economy improved. The production of cotton yarn increased 16 percent from the previous year driven by strong demand from China. The production of cotton fabric also increased around 8 percent due to a significant increase in the exports of cotton fabric to neighboring countries where large Thai garment manufacturers relocated to. Although exports of cotton yarn and fabric will likely continue trending upward in MY2013/14 and MY2014/15, the political turmoil in Thailand may undermine the recovery of the spinning mills. Cotton-fiber spinners have already cut their capacity utilization rate to around 60 percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to last year’s utilization rates of 60-70 percent. Consequently, the import growth of raw cotton in MY2013/14 will likely decelerate to approximately 3 percent from the previous year. In MY2014/15 spinning capacity is likely to return to normal averages of 70-80 percent in anticipation of economic and political recoveries. Thus, cotton imports are forecast to increase to 1.6 – 1.7 million bales. 

Situation and Outlook for Upland and Value-Added Cotton

Production

Cotton production in Thailand remains stable at approximately 1,500 to 1,600 metric tons (2,300 - 2,500 bales). This production accounts for less than one percent of total demand due to limited acreage of around 7,000 to 8,000 rai (1,120 – 1,280 hectares). Thai farmers prefer cultivating competing crops like corn, cassava, and sugar due to the relatively higher returns they receive compared to cotton. The government still bans the use of transgenic plants and there is no domestic support program for cotton farmers.

Overall, cotton yarn production increased 16 percent from the previous year. In addition, cotton fabric production increased 7 to 8 percent due to strong exports of cotton fabric to neighboring countries. Large Thai garment manufacturers reportedly relocated to neighboring countries (i.e., Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) as a result of new laws that increased the minimum wage to 300 baht per day ($9.38/day) from 150-25 baht per day ($5-8/day). The new policy went into effect in January 2013. Labor costs are 4 to 5 times lower in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos and they receive duty-free trade privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) afforded to them by developed countries. The Thai Garment Manufacturers Association reported that 23 large export-oriented garment manufacturers, which account for around half of the large-scale garment manufacturers, have gradually relocated to their operations to other countries since 2012.

Consumption

MY2012/13 cotton consumption was higher than expected at 1.54 million bales, up 16 to 17 percent from the previous year due to the strong recovery of spinning mills. The uptick in consumption was driven by robust exports of cotton yarn and fabric. Spinners increased their capacity utilization to an average of 60 to 70 percent compared to an average of 53 percent in the previous year. The market share of cotton-fiber consumption also increased approximately 45 percent compared to 42 percent in 2012. The increase was driven by strong exports of cotton yarn to China. Domestic sales of cotton yarn also increased around 6 percent from the previous year. 

Cotton consumption in MY2013/14 growth is likely to slow down to around 2 percent from the previous year due the slowdown of the domestic economy. The average quarterly GDP growth has already slowed to around 1.7 percent in the first half of MY2013/14, compared to an average of 7 percent in MY2012/13. Accordingly, the Bank of Thailand has revised down Thailand’s 2014 economic growth forecast to 2.7 percent. GDP growth is expected to remain stagnant in MY2013/14. As a result of the stagnant economy, cotton-fiber spinning mills have cut their capacity utilization to 60 percent, compared to 60-70 percent in the previous marketing year, mainly due to a reduction in domestic sales. In the first half of MY2013/14, both cotton-fiber and polyester-fiber yarn production declined slightly to 0.3 and 0.6 percent from the same period last year. Domestic sales of cotton-fiber yarn also declined around 3 percent from the same period last year. However, cotton yarn exports increased by 54 percent from the same period last year, particularly to China. Exports of cotton yarn and fabric, which account for around 30 percent of total yarn and fabric production, will likely continue to grow in the latter half of MY2013/14 due to strong global economic growth. Cotton fabric exports are also likely to continue its upward trend, particularly to neighboring countries in 2014.

MY2014/15 cotton consumption will likely increase 5 percent from the previous year in anticipation of higher utilization by spinning mills and a recovery of the Thai economy. Spinners are expected to return to their normal capacity utilization rates of 70-80 percent driven by a recovery of the domestic and global economies. Accordingly, the proportion of cotton fiber consumption is likely to increase to approximately 47 percent. 

Trade

MY2012/13 cotton imports increased significantly to 1.5 million bales, up 19.5 percent from the previous year as spinning mills recovered from low demand in the previous year. The demand for imported cotton was driven by strong demand for cotton yarn and fabric. In addition, world cotton prices returned to normal levels resulting in a drop in the average import price of cotton to $0.96/lb., down approximately 30 percent from the previous year. Imports of U.S. cotton increased to 446,398 bales, up 58 percent from the previous year as spinners reduced their large inventories of cotton yarn. Thai cotton yarn exports doubled in MY2012/13, particularly to China, which accounted for 60 to 70 percent of total cotton yarn exports. Cotton fabric exports also increased significantly to Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos where Thai garment manufacturers relocated.

MY2013/14 cotton imports are revised down to 1.5 – 1.6 million bales which is expected to increase only 3 percent from the previous year due to the slower Thai economy. In the first half of the marketing year, cotton imports increased by 14 percent. However, overall imports will likely be offset by the worsening domestic economy in the second half of the year. Despite the stable world cotton prices, cotton-fiber spinners are reportedly being more cautious in their purchasing decisions and they have already reduced their capacity utilization rates due to the concerns over the current political situation. Nonetheless, imports of U.S. cotton will likely increase slightly to 450,000 bales, which account for around 28 to 29 percent of total raw cotton imports, due to tight Australian and Brazilian cotton supplies. 

MY2014/15 cotton imports are forecast to increase to 1.6 – 1.7 million bales, as spinners will likely recover from the domestic economic downturn. U.S. cotton imports are also likely to increase to approximately 500,000 bales as spinners prefer the higher quality fiber to ensure yarn quality, particularly for superior medium-count yarn. 

Stocks

MY2012/13 cotton stocks declined 19 percent as the spinning mills utilized more of their inventories. Overall capacity utilization for cotton yarn production increased due to strong international demand for cotton yarn products, particularly from China. 

Cotton stocks will likely continue to fall as spinners capitalize on export demand. In the first half of MY2013/14, cotton yarn stocks dropped 20 percent from the same period last year. However, the decline in stocks is likely to taper off in the latter part of the year due to the uncertainty of the economy and political situation. 

MY2014/15 cotton stocks are forecast to decline in anticipation of a full recovery of the spinning mills. Spinning utilization rates will likely return to the normal average of 70-80 percent driven by the recovery of the domestic economy in the latter half of the year