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  • Warren Shoulberg

Q4

Warren Shoulberg PUBLISHER/ EDITORIAL DIRECTORWarren Shoulberg
So, it's the start of the fourth quarter, do you know where your customers are?
     For that matter, do you know where your margins are, where your products are and where your competitors are, not to mention where you are?
     The business of the home business has sure gotten pretty complicated these days. In the middle of a prolonged, painfully slow recovery from the worst economic downtown in 70 years, the home textiles market turns around and has one of the best market weeks in recent memory.
     Following a run-up in cotton prices that would embarrass the oil industry after Hurricane Katrina, prices have plummeted nearly all the way back to historic levels.
     And even though two of the most important retailers in the home business - Penney and Kohl's - continue to struggle (albeit at vastly different levels), the overall retail business for these products remains relatively robust.
     It's as if instead of replacement refs in football, the market segment was suddenly populated with replacement people who don't understand the rules and regulations of the industry.
     So, what's it going to be for the last 90 days of 2012? Beating the football metaphor nearly to death, allow me to offer up the following:
     FIRST DOWN: The industry comes into the fourth quarter in better shape than most people would have thought. Avoiding - or at least postponing - a dock strike means there will be ample levels of products in the stores when consumers come a shopping. Some stores may have loaded up a bit in anticipation of something going wrong but balanced out by increasing tendencies to control inventory levels it means there will be the right complement of goods on the field when play starts.
     NO PENALTIES: With cotton prices down to manageable levels and the speculators making too much money on corn and pork bellies to worry about little old cotton, the raw material cost structure of the industry will not be red flagged through the balance of the year. Even petrochemical prices have behaved ... for the most part.
     FRONT LINE: The worldwide sourcing structure remains a muddled situation. China continues to be the center despite losing some strength in the off-season, but both Pakistan and India are guarded in their efforts - the former for ongoing political issues and the latter for internal currency and supply questions that dog suppliers there. The pass rush from rookies like Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and even Africa has the potential to score.
     THE RED ZONE: When it comes right down to the last few yards of the quarter when it really counts, it's going to be a good Christmas. Americans will be relieved the election has been settled, their homes are starting to be worth a little more again, those who have jobs are confident they are likely to keep them and stock market-driven retirement plans are looking much, much better than they have in several seasons.
     Americans will finally be able to get back to their favorite national pastime: Shopping.

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