"THE market has hit the bottom of the J-curve, but don't quote me," was an astute assessment by a veteran wool auctioneer early into last week's smallest Western Wool Centre (WWC) auction in 24 years.
The auctioneer, who wears a blue and white checked shirt, had just finished selling his company's clients' wool as the first fleece lots offered for the day at the WWC.
He had detected a change in buyer attitude, with more bidding competition - not just for top quality fleece as it had been so far this season, but more broadly across good specification wools.
The auctioneer's keen market observation was at least half an hour ahead of anyone else picking up on a more positive tone in the sale room on Wednesday last week, the only day the WWC traded because of the tiny volume woolgrowers were prepared to put up for auction.
At just 3036 bales left after 1165 were withdrawn before the sale, it was the smallest WWC auction since its records began in 1995, Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) said.
After 32 per cent of the fleece offering was withdrawn, only 2119 bales of fleece wool were available for auction, AWEX technical controller at the WWC Andrew Rickwood noted in his market report.
By the time Westcoast Wool & Livestock's Danny Ryan had finished his auctioneering stint halfway through the sale he was convinced the market was "20 cents to 40c better", which was quite a turnaround from losses of 60-100 cents a kilogram a week before.
By the end of the sale brokers were smiling and more confidently predicting the market was close to finding a level.
While the 18-21 micron price guides still eased between 26c and 35c and the Western Indicator slipped 33c to 1383c/kg clean, the WWC was a far less gloomy place than it had been a week before.
There was a positive consensus the market had turned for the better and probably was at the "bottom of the J-curve" as the auctioneer had earlier noted.
Significantly, only 12pc of the tiny offering was rejected by buyers, a massive contrast to 50pc rejection the week before.
Turnover for the day was $4.121 million - a year ago daily turnover from wool sales at the WWC was close to $10m - and the highest price was 1220c/kg greasy (1711c/kg clean) paid for 17.1 micron fleece appraised as MF5S with low vegetable matter, 82 millimetre staple length, 47N/kt strength and 71.3pc yield.
Brokers' confidence was further boosted by improved clearance rates and actual price increases - the first since July - in Sydney and to a lesser degree in Melbourne last Thursday when the WWC was closed.
The Sydney selling centre at Yennora saw fleece prices across all micron sectors and Merino cardings increase generally 30-40c on Thursday.
At AWEX's Brooklyn, Melbourne, centre the price increases were generally 25-35c, but restricted to 19.5 micron and broader fleece, as well as Merino cardings.
Price falls in Melbourne and Sydney, when those centres traded while the WWC was closed on three previous occasions this season, sparked significant price falls at the WWC when trading resumed as the WA wool market caught up to and overtook the Eastern states' markets' price dive.
Brokers are hoping the reverse scenario comes into play this week when trading resumes at the WWC.
Given that the WWC wool market was already trading at significantly discounted prices to most of those at the Melbourne and Sydney centres on Wednesday last week - 18 micron wools up to 175c lower and 19.5 micron wools up to 19c lower - they are hoping for significant gains this week as the WWC catches up.
WWC sales will return to the usual two-day format this week with a combined offering at this stage of 5397 bales in a national offering of 27,923.