U.S. containerized imports declined 5.8 percent in February, the first year-over-year drop in four months, PIERS data show.
Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno said the early Lunar New Year observance, which began Jan. 23 and extended into the first week in February, was partly to blame. However, he said rising production costs in China and uncertain U.S. demand will keep first quarter volumes in check.
“Although I expected trade from Asia to be soft this quarter, it seems now that my forecast of 1 percent for the first quarter of the year might be a bit too optimistic,” he said. Asian import volume during the first two months of 2012 was down 3.3 percent from a year earlier.
“Overall demand for imported home goods remains relatively modest as the pace of home sales recovers at a stubbornly slow manner. Meanwhile, consumer spending rose faster than incomes in February, mainly at the expense of savings, which raises a concern for the sustainability of spending in the long run. Higher gasoline prices remain a concern, at least in the short run,” Moreno said.
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The decline in February imports to 1,193,157 20-foot-equivalent units followed a rise of 4.1 percent in January. On a month-to-month basis, imports tumbled 18.6 percent.
Declining commodities included furniture, down 14 percent; toys, down 20 percent; and footwear, down 15 percent. Also declining were women’s and infant wear, down 16 percent; lamps and parts, down 24 percent; and miscellaneous hardware, down 19 percent.
Imports of empty containers jumped 40 percent and auto parts rose 10 percent, continuing a pattern of increases as Americans resume spending on their vehicles.
On a regional level, imports from Northeast Asia declined by the most, down 13 percent (or 101,345 TEUs) to 672,511 TEUs. Imports from Southeast Asia declined just 1 percent to a total of 117,321 TEUs. Shipments from Northern Europe rose 10 percent. Imports from the Indian Subcontinent jumped 14 percent.
Shipments from China showed the biggest decline, down 15.8 percent (or 95,335 TEUs) to 508,477 TEUs. Shipments from Hong Kong declined 25 percent, and imports from Italy fell 20 percent. Imports were up 18 percent from Germany and 22 percent from India.