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Apparel and Textile Imports Slide

U.S. economy and waning consumer demand drive apparel and textiles down in September.

WASHINGTON — The troubled U.S. economy combined with waning consumer demand to drive apparel and textile imports down in September for the seventh straight month.

Industry imports have fallen in yearly comparisons every month in 2008 except February. Apparel and textile shipments dropped 1.5 percent in September to 4.698 billion square meter equivalents compared with the same month last year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. September’s import volume was also lower than September 2006, but was higher than September 2005, according the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.

Apparel imports bucked the overall trend and increased 2.1 percent for the month to 2.323 billion SME, but did not grow enough to offset declining textile shipments. Textile imports to the U.S. fell 4.7 percent to 2.374 billion SME in the month. The rise in apparel imports was most likely an anomaly and year-to-date, apparel shipments to the U.S. are down 3.3 percent since the beginning of the year.

“You’ve had every retailer in America tell you it’s not going to be a very merry Christmas,” said Richard Yamarone, chief economist at Argus Research Corp. “It’s not altogether surprising that they didn’t boost imports of apparel.”

The import volume of textiles and apparel from China dipped 0.4 percent to 2.1 billion SME. Shipments from Canada dropped 17.5 percent to 123 million SME, continuing a long deceleration trend for the country.

Vietnam, once again, showed the largest increase in import volume, growing 22 percent to 174 million SME in September. Shipments from Bangladesh increased 19.9 percent to 164 million SME, Honduras increased shipments 16.8 percent to 115 million SME and India increased its imports 13.5 percent to 239 million SME.

“Consumer demand is falling and therefore imports are falling,” said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services, adding the trend is likely to continue for the next several months. “Everybody’s known for awhile that this was going to be a difficult year, but a lot of people didn’t realize it was going to be quite this difficult.…I would expect imports to drop even worse [in the coming months].”

The overall trade balance narrowed to $56.5 billion in September from a downwardly revised $59.1 billion the previous month. The trimming of the trade gap was mostly due to a reduction in the oil deficit.