WASHINGTON-An 11.8-percent jump in the tire and related products trade deficit helped put the 1994 U.S. rubber product trade balance $2.1 billion in the red, up 17.4 percent from $1.8 billion in 1993, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures. Tire imports in 1994, especially in the passenger tire category, outpaced exports despite the weaker U.S. dollar because of labor disruptions at domestic plants, said Harry Millis, a Fundamental Research Inc. analyst.
Tire imports increased 10.9 percent to $3 billion; tire exports went up 10.2 percent to $1.61 billion.
Millis said he is surprised to see any increase in exports for 1994 because of labor strikes at U.S. tire factories owned by Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp., Dunlop Tire Corp. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
Exports probably increased because of the rebounding European economy, the weaker U.S. dollar, and the capital poured into U.S. plants during recent years, he said.
Millis believes those factors, a slowing U.S. economy and increased labor stability will flatten imports in 1995 and expand exports to Europe and other areas with improving economies.
So far, U.S. companies have seen little if any benefits from the descending dollar and appreciating Japanese yen, said a Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman.
``(Foreign manufacturers) haven't raised prices enough to lose market share,'' he said.
However, some foreign companies soon could be choosing between operating at a loss or increasing their North American production to offset the weak dollar, the spokesman said.
Trade figures for December already could be showing what's to come this year as the monthly rubber product deficit decreased 2.4 percent from December 1993. The monthly deficit for passenger tires, the largest tire category, dropped 5 percent over the previous year.
Overall exports of rubber goods in 1994 rose 13.8 percent, but not enough to offset a 15.3-percent increase in imports.
The 1994 deficit growth also was marked by substantial hikes in the deficits of three other categories: miscellaneous hard rubber goods shot up 40.3 percent; belting increased 22.6 percent; and rubber and plastic coated garments jumped 7.5 percent.
On the supply side, the 1994 surplus of total rubber-related trade increased 17.7 percent to $180.7 million from $124.7 million, pushed up by higher synthetic rubber exports.
The rubber-related trade growth occurred despite a December deficit of $12.4 million compared with a $1.83 million surplus in December 1993.
Exports of synthetic rubber improved 14.9 percent and imports 12.7 percent in 1994, yielding a 17.8-percent increase in the annual SR surplus and a 40.5-percent boost in December's surplus.
Bob Nelson, Goodyear business manager for elastomers, said the numbers he has seen from other sources suggest the Commerce Department numbers for exports of SR are conservative.
Nelson said exports were intensified by a drought in Japan that restricted industrial use of water, and overestimates of actual SBR capacity, especially in Europe. The Japanese drought also lowered imports from the Far East into the U.S., he said.
An upsurge in the largest synthetics category, SBR-which posted a surplus increase of 23.7 percent-helped create the surplus for the overall category. Two smaller trade surpluses also went up: polybutadiene more than tripled, while EPDM rose 2.8 percent.
Additionally, surpluses for rubber compounds and silicone improved 9.4 percent and 33.9 percent, respectively.
The silicone surplus growth was caused by export growth of 52.9 percent and came despite a 13.5-percent in December's monthly surplus.