U.S. containerized imports rose 1 percent in September as a 25 percent jump in auto parts shipments helped offset declines in toys, apparel, computers, furniture and housewares, PIERS data show.
Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno said the big surprise was a 9 percent year-over-year drop in toy imports at a time when their volumes “should be rising, not falling.”
“High unemployment, subdued growth in disposable income and rising import prices stemming from Asia have prompted toy retailers to be highly cautious with their inventory positions,” he said.
Moreno forecasts a 1 percent rise in fourth quarter containerized import volume following a 1.8 percent drop to 4,458,227 20-foot equivalent units in the third quarter. He had forecast a third quarter decline of 0.9 percent.
Trans-Pacific imports fell 3.8 percent to 3,332,793 TEUs in the third quarter. Moreno had forecast a 2.4 percent drop in that trade lane. He said imports of home goods such as furniture remained soft amid a weak housing market and slow-growing economy.
Also declining were imports of women’s and infant wear (down 11 percent or 5,346 TEUs), computers (down 14 percent or 4,100 TEUs), and menswear (down 8 percent or 2,387 TEUS). “Evidently, retailers are much less optimistic in the upcoming holiday shopping season than a year ago,” Moreno said.
Shippers and carriers agree this has been a weak peak season for holiday imports, although year-over-year comparisons have been skewed by comparisons with last year, when many goods were shipped early to avoid possible capacity shortages.
There’s been plenty of import capacity this year, and container shipping rates have tumbled. Spot rates for container shipments from Hong Kong to Los Angeles fell this week to a 22-month low of $1,478 per 40-foot-equivalent unit, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants’ benchmark.
Auto parts shipments remain a bright spot. Auto parts imports rose 25 percent in September to 54,190 TEUs, the second highest monthly volume in a year, and Moreno expects growth to continue.
Other commodities showing sharp increases included bananas, up 15 percent after rising 6 percent in August, and miscellaneous metalware, which increased 20 percent.