March 5, 2020 / 6:43 AM / 25 days ago

Australian wool prices resilient despite coronavirus spread

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Wool buyers in Australia, the world’s dominant exporter, have shrugged off growing concerns over the impact of the coronavirus on garment-makers in China and Italy to send prices slightly higher in the first auctions since a sharp escalation in the global epidemic.

FILE PHOTO: Traders buy bales of Australian wool at an auction in Yennora, Sydney, Australia August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Barrett/File Photo

Traders, frustrated by a near two-week long closure due to a cyber attack that shuttered auctions across the country, sent the benchmark price hiefor merino wool up by three Australian cents to A$15.84 ($10.49) per kg when trading restarted on Wednesday, auction results showed. Auctions are usually held each Wednesday and Thursday.

Bidding proved particularly strong for fine clothing-quality wool, which underpinned a higher-than-average A$47.8 million ($31.66 million) in turnover across the country’s three main auction sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

It was the first opportunity for brokers since Feb. 20 to offload bales at auction, the country’s primary method of wool sales.

“Everyone was pretty active,” said Andrew Blanch, managing director of Italian textile maker-owned New England Wool.

“There was good general competition from Europe and from China,” said Blanch, who attended the Sydney auction.

Australia controls 90% of global fine-wool exports, where prices are largely driven by Chinese wool mills and Italian garment makers. The two countries purchase the majority of Australia’s A$3 billion-plus ($2.2 billion) in annual wool exports.

Traders told Reuters it was unclear heading into Wednesday’s auction how the virus would impact on demand from the major export markets after the industry was forced into a hiatus because of a cyber attack.

A spokesman for the wool industry’s software provider Talman told Reuters no data was lost in the cyber attack and that the systems were being reset. The spokesman declined to provide further details about the software outage.

During the outage, Italy emerged as Europe’s worst hit country, with the coronavirus claiming more than 100 deaths. Italy has now closed all schools and universities.

The total accumulated number of cases in mainland China now numbers 80,409, according to the country’s National Health Commission.

Wool auctions are scheduled to proceed across Australia on Thursday, which is one of the week’s biggest selling days.

($1 = 1.5097 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; editing by Jane Wardell

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