Vicuna, cashmere and wool prices

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After exploring alpaca fibre prices in last week's article, and with 2024 heralded as the Year of the Camelid, we now shift our focus to the prestigious fibre of the Vicuna, the Queen of the Andes.

In January Mecardo looked at wool volumes on the very fine edge of the Australian merino distribution, noting that effectively no 12 micron wool is sold at auction, even though around 200 farm bales are tested by the AWTA each season. This volume of farm bales works back to around 20 metric tonnes clean annual production in Australia. If you want to see how 12 micron wool is used visit the Loro Piana website.

Loro Piana is well known for operating in the luxury end of the wool market (read more). However, wool is only one of the luxury fibres used by this firm. In terms of price (high) and volume (low), vicuna is arguably the most expensive and exclusive animal fibre. Around 7 metric tonnes of vicuna fibre is exported from South America each year, with Loro Piana the major buyer. Vicuna is reported to have a fibre diameter in the range of 12-14 micron, so it is both rare and very fine.

Figure 1 shows a vicuna US dollar price time series from 2005 through 2023, along with cashmere and the price ratio of vicuna to cashmere (bars). The vicuna series has been put together from a range of series which includes greasy, carded and combed, both local and international. The prices were annual averages, without any reference to the quality/grade of vicuna. During the past decade vicuna has sold from anywhere between two and four times cashmere, typically around US$400 per kg. During the past two decades the volume of vicuna has increased from around 2 tonnes to 7-8 tonnes, still tiny but a sizeable increase. This is a good effort as vicuna cuts per head are in the order of 150 gm (that is no typo). The increase seems a good explanation for the drop in the price ratio to cashmere from 4-5 to 2-3 during the two decades.

Figure 2 is added as a way to link these prices (cashmere and vicuna) back to mainstream wool prices. The price ratio for cashmere to 16 micron wool (annual averages) has ranged from 6-8 in recent years, rising to 10-12 in the period of depressed fine merino prices in 2013 to 2015. 16 micron is not in this league of animal fibres.

We do have some 12-micron price data, for when there have been sales at auction. Figure 3 compares the vicuna price series and the limited Australian 12 micron price data, with the bars showing the price ratio of vicuna to 12 micron wool. In 2010 to 2013 the vicuna price was 1.5-2.5 times that of 12 micron wool, which given the similar fibre diameter and the greater supply of 12 micron wool, looks about right. In addition, the historic data also provides a theoretical price for 12 micron wool.

What does it mean?

In terms of apparel fibre hierarchy vicuna is above cashmere. For merino wool, the relationship varies with quality and supply. 12 micron wool seems (on limited evidence) to fit in between vicuna and cashmere in terms of price, as it would also with supply.

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Key Points

  • Vicuna fibre prices are around three times that of good cashmere prices.
  • Vicuna volumes have been increasing during the past two decades, but remain at extremely small levels.
  • The limited 12 micron price data available shows vicuna to sell for 1.5 to 2.5 times 12 micron Australian wool, although this data is a decade old.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: SERFOR, various, WTiN, The Times, IWTO, AWEX, RBA, ICS, Mecardo
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