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Importers Keeping Inventory Lean, Containerized Shipments Down 2%

June 8, 2012

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U.S. containerized imports dropped 2% in April year over year to 1.27 million twenty-foot-equivalent units, or TRUs, as retailers responded to a slowing economy by keeping inventories lean,
reports Mario O. Moreno, economist for The Journal of Commerce/PIERS. The decline followed a 7.3% year-over-year gain in March due, in part, to an early Lunar New Year in China.

"Latest import data reinforces the interpretation of a marked slowdown in the economy, induced by a lack of significant job growth," Moreno says. "It is only fair to ask, what will the Fed do next?"

His comments reflect his continued expectation that growth in imports will regain speed in the second half of the year, with the help of Federal Reserve intervention. Overall U.S. containerized imports were up 1% in the first four months of the year.

Leading the losses in April were footwear and miscellaneous fruits, each down 20%; menswear, down 19%; women's and infant wear, down 11%; miscellaneous apparel, down 11%t; auto tires, down 6%; and computer-related products, down 8%.

Sales of existing homes are paddling along so far this year, which contributed to a slight uptick in furniture imports. In the months ahead, however, softness in the pace of home sales will constrain growth in furniture and home goods imports, Moreno said. Furniture is the single largest containerized import commodity.

Year-over-year U.S. containerized imports from Asia declined 1.6% in April, with shipments from China at the forefront, down 3%, due to reduced footwear, furniture and toy shipments. Chile followed with a surprising drop of 25%, while imports from Hong Kong and Belgium fell 11% and 17%, respectively. Leading the gains were Japan, up 17%, and Vietnam, up 14%.

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