Bad News on Newsprint Is At Least a Little Less Bad

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By: Debbie Garcia

(Forestweb) While the drop in U.S. newsprint consumption continued in April, it decelerated from the rate of decline in the two preceding months, according to the Pulp and Paper Products Council’s (PPPC) most recent Flash Report, released recently.

Newsprint consumption by U.S. dailies dropped 2.8% year-over-year in April to 681,000 tons, but this decline was less than in February (-5.4%) and March (-6.2%). For the first four months of this year, U.S. dailies’ consumed 2.558 million tons of newsprint, which was 4.3% less than a year ago.

Total U.S. newsprint consumption in April totaled 834,000 tons, down by 4.3% from last April, indicating that other uses for newsprint were even harder hit than daily newspapers. Year-to-date total U.S. newsprint consumption was 3.127 million tons, down 4.8% from a year ago.

Newspaper circulation dropping

The PPPC said that part of the decline in newsprint consumption was caused by decreases in newspaper circulation. The Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that in the six-month period ending Mar. 31, 2005, U.S. newspaper daily circulation dropped 1.9% and Sunday circulation declined by 2.5%.

Newsprint grammage has also been dipping, further contracting newsprint consumption. The mean grammage for North American domestic shipments of newsprint was 47.5 g/m2 in April compared to 47.7 g/m2 in March, and averaged 47.7 g/m2 for January-April 2005, the PPPC reported.

North American newsprint demand further weakened in April, totaling 853,000 tons, a drop of 9.8% year-over-year. This was due to a sharp decline of 10.6% in U.S. demand. The 762,000 tons of U.S. newsprint demand in April brought the year-to-date total to 3.129 million tons, down 4.8% from a year ago.

Total North American newsprint demand for January-April 2005 reached 3.472 million tons, down 7.7% from a year ago. Total Canadian newsprint demand was down year-over-year by 2.1% in April, to 92,000 tons. This brought the year-to-date total Canadian newsprint demand to 344,000 tons, a decline of 2.2% from a year ago.

Decreased newsprint demand led to a drop in domestic shipments. While total North American newsprint shipments in April were down year-over-year by 3.8%, deliveries to domestic markets slipped by a steeper 9.3%. April shipments to the United States were down 10.1%, but, to Canada, off by only 2.1%.

Export markets improve

However, overseas demand for North American newsprint improved in April. Exports surged ahead by 23.0%, to 232,000 tons for the month. This brought the year-to-date figure to 868,000 tons, up 6.6% from a year ago. All major export markets reported growth, with the exception of Japan, which dropped 19.5% in April compared to a year ago.

The PPPC said that most of the growth in exports was due to increased sales to non-Japan Asia, which showed a year-over-year jump in April of 48.8%, bringing the year-to-date figure 38.4% ahead of a year ago. Increased exports for April versus a year ago were also significant in Latin America (+34.9%) and Western Europe (+13.6%).

North American newsprint mills operated at 95% of capacity in April, down 1% from a year ago, but year-to-date operating rates were the same for both 2005 and 2004. The U.S. operating rate of 95% in April was the same as a year ago, but the year-to-date rate of 96% was 1% higher than a year ago. Canadian operating rates dipped year-over-year by 2% in April to 95%, and year-to-date was off by 1% to 96%.

Newsprint production in North America totaled 1.076 million tons in April, down 4.4% from a year ago. This brought the total for the first four months to 4.286 million tons, a drop of 5.3% from the same period in 2004. U.S. production was down year-over-year by 4.0% for both April and year-to-date, while Canadian production fell 4.6% in April and 6.1% year-to-date.

Inventories low for sellers, high for buyers

By the end of April, due to a 10,000-ton increase in inventories destined for overseas markets, North American mill stocks increased by 8,000 tons to 342,000 tons, which is 8% below the five-year average, according to the PPPC. During the month, Canadian mill inventories decreased by 5,000 tons, but U.S. mill stocks grew by 13,000 tons.

Inventories held by U.S. dailies, meanwhile, came down by 33,000 tons in April, to end the month at a level equivalent to 43 days of supply, which is three days above the five-year average, according to the PPPC. For All U.S. Users, inventories plummeted by 73,000 tons during April, ending the month at a level equivalent to 40 days of supply. At the end of April, both All U.S. Users and U.S. Dailies had inventories that were the equivalent of two days of supply lower than a year earlier.

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