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Imports Continue to Fall

Apparel, textile shipments drop 10.5 percent.

WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile import levels continued to spiral down in November, dropping for the ninth consecutive month.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Textile and apparel shipments to the U.S. declined 10.5 percent in November to 3.7 billion square meter equivalents compared with the same period last year, the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Tuesday.

Year-to-date shipments were also off, falling 5 percent through Nov. 30. Imports for the first 11 months of the year haven’t been this low since 2004, according to OTEXA.

Apparel and textile import levels each declined in the month. Apparel shipments dropped 5.7 percent year-over-year to 1.7 billion SME, while textiles fell 14 percent to 2.1 billion SME.

Import levels typically are lower in November than October, after the rush of shipments to meet retailers’ holiday needs and to hedge against quotas filling up. The decline this year was more pronounced — 2 percent below October.

“Declining apparel imports in this report are further confirmation that the apparel industry is in for some really bad times in 2009,” said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp. “It doesn’t look like there’s any apparel ‘must have’ this year and even if there were it doesn’t look like anyone wants it.”

Imports of textiles and apparel from China declined 11.3 percent compared with November 2007 to 1.5 billion SME. Shipments from Canada fell 26.8 percent to 97 million SME and imports from Mexico declined 24.2 percent to 182 million SME.

Vietnam continued to perform against trend in November, raising its shipments of textiles and apparel by 12.3 percent to 147 million SME. Bangladesh increased its shipments 13 percent to 109 million SME. India’s imports to the U.S. advanced 8.3 percent to 230 million SME.

The top five apparel suppliers to the U.S. in November were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Indonesia. China was also the top textile source of U.S. imports, followed by Pakistan, India, Mexico and South Korea.

The overall trade gap narrowed to $40.4 billion in November from $56.7 billion in October, driven mostly by plunging oil prices and import levels. The non-oil deficit also narrowed, said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight, because imports fell faster than exports.

“The key message from this report is bad news,” Gault said. “It shows both export and import volumes contracting sharply as the global economy tumbles into recession. It is slim comfort that the U.S. cut its demand for imports more rapidly than the rest of the world cut its demand for U.S. exports. That might cushion the U.S. downturn a little, but it’s not a route to recovery.”