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This study analyzes US supply of and demand for insulated wire and cable products. Major product segments covered are:
building wire and cable
general purpose (thermoplastic or thermoset)
specialty (nonmetallic and underground feeder cable, metallic armored, service entrance, niche product such as low-voltage doorbell wire)
power wire and cable
underground distribution cable
portable wire and cable
other types, principally overhead distribution cable
fiber optic cable (single-mode and multimode)
electronic wire and cable
multiconductor wire and cable
other products such as antenna lead-in wire and computer backplane wire
apparatus wire and cordage
flexible cordage (e.g., extension cords, power cords, specialty cords)
other products (e.g., machine tool wire, wall wire, hobby wire, submersible pump cable)
primary, ignition, and battery wire and cable
telephone wire and cable, including:
exchange area and toll wire and cable
inside wiring cable
drop, bridle, and duct wire
telephone sets and cordage
control and signal
various other types
non-motor vehicle transportation wire and cable
elevator hatch and traveling cable
specialty wire and cable
Excluded from the scope of the study are bare wire and other types of noninsulated wire products, as well as complete wiring harnesses and wiring sets (although separately sold wire utilized in such products is included).
Historical and forecast sales are also provided for:
major end use markets, including:
construction (residential building, commercial building, and nonbuilding)
telecommunications (e.g., backbone, last mile, information processing)
industrial machinery and equipment
other markets (e.g., aerospace, marine, and other transportation; government; service sector; consumer)
selected raw materials consumption data:
aluminum and other metals
primary plastics (e.g., PVC, polyethylene, polypropylene, thermoplastic elastomers, nylon, fluoropolymers)
Historical data (2010, 2015, and 2020) and forecasts for 2025 and 2030 are provided in millions of dollars for demand, shipments, and net exports.
Supply & Demand
The US is a significant net importer of insulated wire and cable, with a trade deficit of $5.5 billion in 2020. The nation’s trade deficit has more than doubled since 2010, due largely to rising international competition in lower cost product segments. Unsurprisingly, the largest sources of domestic imports are Mexico and China, two leading nations with production costs lower than those of the US.
International demand for higher-end products for advanced technologies creates some opportunities for US exports. However, the largest share of US exports is destined for Mexico and Canada, markets that benefit more from proximity to US suppliers.
Shipments of insulated wire and cable from US suppliers are forecast to rise 2.3% per year through 2025, trailing growth in domestic demand:
Production growth will be restrained by ongoing competition from imports, and the US trade deficit is expected to continue to grow, reaching nearly $7.0 billion in 2025.
Price will remain an important purchasing criteria, particularly for commodity-grade products. As a result, imports from Mexico and China will continue to rise.
Demand by Product
US demand for insulated wire and cable is projected to grow 2.9% annually to $24.8 billion in 2025. Growth will be driven by increases in building construction and manufacturing activity from a weak 2020. Ongoing investment in telecommunications infrastructure will also support sales.
Building wire and cable, which accounted for 25% of 2020 demand, will continue to comprise the largest share of demand and experience solid gains. Building construction activity recovered from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2020, although the commercial building segment continues to face uncertainty and will likely see a slow, more protracted recovery.
Fiber optic cables have significantly increased their share of the market in recent years, rising from 7.8% of the total in 2010 to over 14% in 2020:
Growth is expected to moderate somewhat as the telecommunications backbone market matures, although this will be offset to an extent by investment related to the 5G rollout.
Last-mile fiber – although a relatively small niche – is expected to post strong growth as the proliferation of internet-connected devices makes the cost increasingly justifiable.
In its most basic form, insulated wire and cable consists of a conductor covered with an insulating material:
Metals have historically been the conductive material of choice and will remain dominant in nonelectronic settings, such as in building and power wire and cable.
Optical fibers made from glass or plastic also act as conductors.
Glass fiber conductors will continue to be used extensively in applications involving the transmission of voice, video, and data signals.
Plastic optical fibers are expected to continue to gain market share from glass fibers within the fiber optic market.
Among insulating materials, plastics make up the vast majority of demand due to their nonconductivity, good ductility (ability to be drawn without breakage), and generally low cost. Thermoplastic resins, particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), account for a large share of demand and are expected to remain the generally preferred materials going forward.
The amount of raw material, excluding optical fibers, used in wire and cable products is forecast to grow 2.7% per year to 5.1 billion pounds in 2025. Rising US manufacturing of these products will spur increased materials consumption, although competition from imports will temper growth.
US demand for insulated wire and cable is forecast to rise 2.9% per year to $24.8 billion in 2025. Recoveries in the building construction and manufacturing industries will support sales growth, although market maturity will restrain the pace of gains in most applications.
Lingering Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic to Create Uncertainty for Wire & Cable Suppliers
The long-term impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is still unknown. While many businesses have navigated their way through the initial shock the pandemic had on the US and global economy, some industries are facing longer-term effects that have the potential to restrict demand for essential components like wire and cable:
Commercial building construction in the US declined in 2020 and is expected remain depressed in 2021. Much of these losses are due to short-term economic uncertainty, but the pandemic may also have permanently accelerated long-term shifts toward remote work and away from brick-and-mortar retail.
Aircraft travel has declined significantly, impacting aircraft production plans (as well as aircraft repair and maintenance). Global air traffic is currently not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024 at the earliest, potentially leading to a prolonged downturn for aircraft equipment suppliers.
5G Rollout Sustaining Demand for Fiber Optic Cable
Infrastructure spending related to the 5G rollout will provide sales opportunities and contribute to sustained high levels of demand, as massive amounts of fiber optic cable will be required to support the large number of distributed cells in 5G networks. However, construction of 5G infrastructure is expected to be a slow, labor-intensive process that is unlikely to be compressed into a short timeframe. In addition, the market for fiber optic cable in the telecommunications backbone has matured. As a result, growth in demand for fiber optic cable is expected to moderate going forward.
Most Wire & Cable Products to Post Improvement
Markets for wire and cable products in manufacturing applications generally declined in 2020. Construction and telecommunications infrastructure applications also faced challenges but fared somewhat better due to the strength of residential building construction in the latter half of the year:
The construction market shrank slightly in 2020, and a recovery will allow for improved growth in sales of building wire and cable through 2025.
Demand for products used in telecommunications infrastructure applications increased in 2020, as spending on telecommunications utilities construction continued to rise. However, the relatively healthy 2020 means that these products have limited prospects for recovery-driven growth going forward.
Among other wire and cable products, motor vehicles products offer an opportunity for even stronger gains, albeit mainly due to a rebound in automotive production from a low 2020 level. Sales of electronic wire and cable will also return to growth following a poor 2015-2020 performance, but the maturity of US electronic product manufacturing industries will constrain the pace of gains.