Apparel Import Growth Accelerated in October

Apparel import growth accelerated in October, according to the most recent data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, despite reported slowdowns at West Coast ports. The increase was helped by the strength of the dollar, which has been steadily increasing in value compared to those of many key apparel trading partners, and by declining oil prices, which have reduced shipping costs.

More surprising, however, was is the acceleration of U.S. apparel exports, which grew at an even faster rate than imports.

Total imports of goods and services increased by 3 percent from the same month last year, to $213 billion, due primarily to increases in imports of automotive vehicles and parts and capital goods. Total exports grew by 2.4% to $146 billion.

Apparel imports (CIF basis) jumped by 4.6%, to a total of $9.15 billion.

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On a 12-month smoothed basis, however, which corrects for volatility of data in a particular month, apparel import growth increased to 3.3% in October, its fastest monthly rate in seven months.

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China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia were the top sources of U.S. imported apparel in October, with China at $3.2 billion, Vietnam with $935 million, $471 million for Indonesia and $413 million for Bangladesh. Imports from Vietnam grew by 15.4% over October of last year, while those from China grew by 3.5%.

Despite the dollar’s strength, apparel exports rose 7.7% to $595 million, three times the rate of overall goods and services export growth, capping five straight months of impressive gains. On a 12-month smoothed basis, apparel exports accelerated to 5.4% in October, up from September’s 4.8% pace.

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Canada is the biggest market for U.S. apparel exports, followed by Mexico, the U.K., Japan and Honduras. Apparel exports to Mexico have surged by almost 12 percent so far this year, to $843 million, and to El Salvador by 16.7% to $104 million. Exports to Germany have grown by 2 percent to $79 million (making it one of the top 10 destinations for U.S. apparel exports), slower than earlier this year, no doubt due to the weakening euro. Exports to the Netherlands have dropped by 9.3%.

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