U.S. containerized imports in April fell 2 percent from a year earlier as slowing economic growth reduced demand for consumer goods such as footwear and clothing.
Import volume for the month totaled 1,372,851 20-foot equivalent units, PIERS statistics show. The decline in April followed a year-over-year gain of 7.5 percent in March that was affected by an early Lunar New Year.
Volume through the first four months of 2012 edged up 1 percent.
Declines in April import volume were recorded in footwear, down 20 percent; miscellaneous fruits, down 20 percent; menswear, down 19 percent; women’s and infant wear, down 11 percent; and miscellaneous apparel, down 11 percent.
“It appears retailers are keeping inventories of footwear and apparel ultra lean as the economy loses momentum and employers reduce hiring,” said Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno.
Auto parts imports rose 12 percent, reflecting the auto industry’s continuing recovery. Imports of bananas were up 9 percent. Furniture, the largest U.S. containerized import category, posted a 2 percent gain.
Furniture sales are tied closely to the real estate market. Sales of existing homes rose modestly in April after declining in February and March. “Softness in the pace of home sales will constrain growth in imports of furniture and other home goods in the months ahead,” Moreno said.
Imports from North Asia were down 2 percent from a year earlier to 825,000 TEUs, with shipments from China off 3 percent to 639,146 TEUs, mostly because of declines in footwear, furniture and toys. Imports from Hong Kong fell 11 percent. Shipments from Japan rose 17 percent from April 2011, when volumes were disrupted by the country’s earthquake and tsunami.
Imports from North Europe declined 2 percent to 133,534 TEUs, with imports from Belgium falling 17 percent. Imports in the smaller west coast of South America trade fell 14 percent to 33,797 TEUs. Shipments from the Caribbean jumped 25 percent, while Southeast Asia shipments grew 1 percent.