By  on August 9, 2012

WASHINGTON — Wavering consumer demand elevated retailers’ and brands’ inventory concerns, contributing to a decline in June apparel imports on a year-over-year basis, according to a report released Thursday by the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Combined apparel and textile imports to the U.S. in June edged up 0.3 percent from June 2011 levels to 4.7 billion square meter equivalents. Apparel imports fell 4.7 percent to 1.97 billion SME in June compared with a year earlier, but a 4.1 percent increase in textile imports to 2.75 billion SME last month offset the apparel import decline and boosted combined shipments.

“This isn’t just about what is happening in one country or in one region,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “This is clearly overall a pretty consistent message here of the uncertainty and the concern for companies to not have too much inventory as they head into the holiday selling season.”

Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., rose 0.9 percent in June to 2.3 billion SME compared with a year earlier. Textile shipments again boosted overall shipments from China, rising 2.9 percent to 1.48 billion SME, while apparel imports fell 2.4 percent to 844 million SME.

Combined shipments from Vietnam, which took some share away from China, rose 3.1 percent to 274 million SME. Apparel imports, of which Vietnam is the second largest supplier to the U.S., rose 2.5 percent to 167 million SME.

Eight of the top 10 apparel suppliers to the U.S. posted declines in apparel imports. Aside from Vietnam, the only other top country to post an increase in apparel imports was Pakistan, which had a 2.8 percent increase to 54 million SME.

Six of the top 10 countries posted an increase in combined textile and apparel shipments, including China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and South Korea.

The overall trade deficit narrowed to $42.9 billion in June from a revised $48 billion in May.

“Weak imports continue to point towards modest domestic activity,” said Gregory Daco, principal U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “Overall, the export picture looked rosy with all but one major subcategory posting increases. However, a look at the details confirms the ongoing slowdown of foreign demand for U.S. products. Consumer goods led the export gains, but half of the advance came from volatile pharmaceuticals and gem diamonds.”

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