U.S. imports rebounded sharply in March after falling in February on tough year-over-year comparisons because of the early closing of factories in China. Overall U.S. containerized imports in March increased 7.3 percent year-over-year to 1.37 million 20-foot equivalent units. Imports fell 5.9 percent year-over-year in February.
“The latest TEU data supports my view of very modest imports growth through the second half of the year,” said Mario Moreno, economist for The Journal of Commerce. “Although the U.S. economy is showing signs of deceleration, I do think it will be momentary as the Fed has made it clear it is prepared to do more if conditions worsen. Imports growth should regain speed in the second half of the year.”
Leading the March gains were furniture, up 15 percent, or 18,377 TEUs; empty containers and drums, up 178 percent, or 16,873 TEUs; and auto parts, up 15 percent, or 8,052 TEUs.
Sales of existing homes declined in March for the second consecutive month, a concern for the short-term imports outlook of furniture and other home goods. Solid gains were seen in miscellaneous plastic products, up 17 percent; bananas, up 12 percent; and miscellaneous metal ware, up 18 percent.
On the downside, miscellaneous fruits lost 17 percent of TEU volume, while imports of footwear and menswear were down 9 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
On a regional level, imports from Northeast Asia rose the most, up 11 percent, or 74,534 TEUs, to a total of 765,501 TEUs. North Europe followed, advancing 6 percent to 158,444 TEUs, while shipments from the Mediterranean surged 12 percent to 77,946 TEUs. Leading the losses were the Indian subcontinent and east coast of South America, down 7 percent and 8 percent respectively.
Imports from China grew 13 percent, or 66,681 TEUs, to 579,181TEUs. This sharp jump in shipments from China is mostly owed to an easier year-over-year comparison with March 2011 base as the 2012 Lunar New Year came early.
Vietnam followed with a remarkable gain of 32 percent, or 8,950 TEUs, while imports from Germany jumped 11 percent, or 5,146 TEUs.
Leading the losses, shipments from Brazil declined 16 percent in TEU volume in the month.
On a month-to-month basis, overall imports rose 15.2 percent in March, following a contraction of 19 percent in February.
For the year-to-date through March, overall U.S. containerized imports were up 2 percent.
Overall U.S. containerized imports advanced 2 percent in the first quarter of 2012 year-over-year to a total of 4,032,857 TEUs. This growth compares favorably to Moreno’s forecast of 1.5 percent as presented in the March 2012 issue of JOC Container Shipping Outlook. Imports from Asia barely rose 0.5 percent in the quarter versus his forecast of 1 percent.