US apparel imports tumbled by nearly 20% month-on-month in November

US apparel imports tumbled by nearly 20% month-on-month in November

Apparel imports into the US in November tumbled by nearly 20% on the month before - including the first drop from Bangladesh - as retailers wound down their purchases of key holiday season merchandise.

But figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of apparel imports was 2.8% higher year-on-year at 1.85bn square metre equivalents (SME). This compares with the 2.3bn SME imported in October.

August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season's merchandise is brought into the country - booking year-on-year gains of 5.5%, 2.0% and 4.8% respectively in 2013.

China remains the largest apparel supplier to the US, with its shipments rising 6.2% to 778m SME in November - outpacing that of each of the previous three months.

But second-largest supplier Vietnam also ranked as the fastest-growing, booking a hike of 16.9% year-on-year to 185m SME. Vietnam has been gaining as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains by moving some manufacturing from China.

Vietnam is also being buoyed by the expected benefits of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade treaty with countries including Canada and the US.

A stellar performance was also seen by Cambodia, whose shipments surged 11.96% to 78m SME, despite industrial unrest sparked by poor pay. But India edged up just 1.3% to 62m SME.

Five of the top-ten apparel suppliers to the US saw their imports fall in November - the most notable being third-ranked Bangladesh.

Its shipments fell 2.2% to 117m SME during the month, the first drop since factory safety issues came to the fore with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April.

A slowdown in growth was first seen in September - but fears of a slowdown in US orders appeared to be unfounded after the country saw a massive 42.5% hike in shipments during October.

That said, long leadtimes meant it would take several months for any changes to sourcing patterns to start to emerge, and in recent months buyer confidence may well have been shaken by other issues, including widespread strikes and disruption across the country as a pay rise for apparel workers was negotiated. There have also been disturbances in the run-up to this month's parliamentary election.

November declines in apparel shipments were also seen by Indonesia (-9.3% to 86m SME), Honduras (-7.4% to 87m SME), El Salvador (-1.7% to 56m SME) and Pakistan (-15.3% to 47m SME).

Regional apparel imports were led by ASEAN, whose shipments climbed 6.4% to 399m SME. But in contrast to a 30.1% hike booked by South Asia in October, its shipments fell 3.5%to 258m SME in November.

In total, combined textile and apparel imports into the US climbed 5.2% year-on-year in November to 4.452bn SME. In terms of textiles, shipments rose 6.97% during the month to 2.6bn SME.

While monthly trade data is often volatile, with big swings from one month to the next, a broader year-to-date view shows total US apparel and textile imports were 4.5% higher in the 11 months through November.

Compared with the same period last year, they stood at 52.26bn SME, with textile imports climbing 4.05% to 29.2bn SME and apparel imports up 5.09% to 23.0bn SME.

The data also suggests the likely country winners and losers for the year as a whole when it comes to securing US orders.

Despite repeated claims that buyers are fleeing China, the data shows otherwise, with the volume of apparel orders into the US up 4.9% in the first 11 months of 2013 to 9.6bn SME. While costs in the country are rising, these are largely being offset by productivity gains.

Vietnam, too, is on an upward trajectory as far as import volume is concerned, posting the biggest gains of the year to date - with a rise of 13.6% to 2.24bn SME.

And it is closely followed by Bangladesh, up 11.9% to 1.59bn SME.

Rises have also been seen by Indonesia (up 1.7% to 1.18bn SME), Cambodia (up 3.3% to 991m SME), Mexico (up 0.75% to 845m SME), India (up 5.8% to 826m SME), and El Salvador (up 0.9% to 728m SME).

Indeed, of the top-ten apparel suppliers to the US just two - Honduras and Pakistan - have seen declines in the year to date, falling 4.2% to 984m SME and 0.06% to 545m SME, respectively.

Regionally, the biggest gains have been seen by ASEAN (up 6.9% to 5.14bn SME) and South Asia (up 8.8% to 3.3bn SME). But DR-CAFTA remained flat at 2.68bn SME.