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Jennifer Marks

Bracing For Impact

We're barely into 2005, but already there are a lot of changes headed our way that will impact the home textiles industry. Herewith, a short list:

Kmart-Sears merger: Unless the Federal Trade Commission has an unforeseen change of heart, the new retail entity should be a reality by late spring. The big question is how soon the merged company will hire a senior merchant to wield that big pencil.

JCPenney II: Speaking of large retail companies with an opening in the top merchant's slot…

Vansessa Castagna: Speaking of top merchants … Who's going to land her, and how soon?

Chinese textiles imports: As of Dec. 28, China had not put any home textiles categories on its list products that will be subject to export tariff. However, a read between the lines of both U.S. and Chinese governmental statements suggests a mutual agreement to control the rate of textiles import growth coming from China. Some China-watchers say the U.S. wants to limit the growth to 7 percent this year while China would prefer a heftier number. Either way, 2005 may not wind up seeing the no-holds-barred influx of Chinese goods everyone had dreaded. Now, 2006 — that's another matter.

Indian and Pakistani imports: The biggest beneficiaries of any slowdown in Chinese import growth will be these two. Industrial leaders in both countries have been preparing for 2005 for a few years now, many of them working to get out of the down-and-dirty commodities end of the business.

U.S. plant closings: The past month has brought several closing announcements — the entire Hoffman Mills operation and some Springs facilities, among them. Expect even more as the year gets under way, especially among smaller companies. The big ones to watch: WestPoint Stevens and Dan River, both of which hope to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by spring.

There are other events to watch out for this year, of course: the re-launch of Fieldcrest as a Target exclusive and Royal Velvet as a national brand; a potential IPO for Anna's Linens; and whether Wilbur Ross intends to build a domestic textiles empire on the foundation of Burlington and Cone.

Yes, this year promises to take the industry on one heck of a ride — and that's just based on the things we know about now. When it's all over, we can pass out the “I Survived 2005” T-shirts.

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