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US Jeans Imports Show Some Bounce in August, as China Fades

U.S. jeans imports, sluggishly rebounding from the severe Covid-induced economic downturn, notched a second straight month showing a bump in shipments, but remained well below last year’s levels.

The latest data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA) showed imports of blue denim apparel were down 32.19 percent in value to $1.69 billion in the year to date through August. This was a bit better than the 35.26 percent year-to-year decline in the seven months through July.

Most denim brands and retailers have said they have focused on working through inventory stuck in warehouses and stores, while curtailing import orders. Levi Strauss & Co. said Tuesday in reporting its third quarter results that its inventory position had improved.

“The adverse impact on cash from operations related to the widespread temporary store closures and other significant adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was more than offset by the company’s cost reduction initiatives and focus on working capital management, in particular managing inventories, including reducing and canceling inventory commitments and redeploying basic inventory items to subsequent seasons, as well as negotiating extended payment terms with suppliers, vendors and landlords, and vigorously pursuing collection of receivables,” Levi Strauss & Co. “Total inventories were up one percent compared to the end of the corresponding prior-year period, despite the sales decline of 27 percent, reflecting the company’s aggressive inventory actions in response to the COVID-19 business disruption.”

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Cambodia and Vietnam continued to be the only major suppliers on the plus side of the ledger. Jeans imports from Vietnam increased 1.51 percent to $230.19 million in the first eight months of 2020, while Cambodia’s shipments were up 23.2 percent to $89.03 million, according to OTEXA.

Denim apparel imports from now-top supplier Bangladesh were down 8.46 percent to $333.55 million in the period and No. 2 Mexico’s imports have fallen 50.89 percent to $274.45 million. Both countries trimmed their year-to-date losses in August from the prior month.

China’s plummeting market share continued, dropping to the No. 4 supplier in value behind Vietnam, OTEXA data revealed. Jeans imports from China were down 60.21 percent in the eight-month period, slightly better than the 63.23 percent decline a month earlier, to $205.94 million. Experts don’t see China’s slide slowing down much, even under a potential Biden administration, which is expected to continue a tough trade policy against the country.

Nicole Bivens Collinson, president of international trade and government relations at Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, said Biden has said he may keep Trump’s tariffs on China and has pledged to “insist on fair trade.”

The rest of the Top 10 suppliers showed moderate improvement in the month, but shipments remained significantly down for the year. Imports from Pakistan were down 16.44 percent to $142.79 million, Egypt’s were off 38.2 percent to $71.94 million, Nicaragua’s have fallen 31.12 percent to $55.7 million, Sri Lanka’s have dipped 17.49 percent to $31.06 million and Lesotho’s have decreased 12.47 percent to $31.79 million.

Among the second-tier suppliers, three African countries were the only producers to register year-to-date increases. Jeans imports from Madagascar increased 22.17 percent to $20.55 million, shipments from Ethiopia rose 17.25 percent to $13.07 million and imports from Tanzania were up 7.02 percent to $9.29 million.