Apparel imports gained steam in September, according to data just released by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
This was hardly surprising, given the strength of the dollar. The U.S. currency has been steadily increasing in value compared to those of many key apparel trading partners.
What was surprising, however, were the gains clocked by U.S. apparel exports, which grew at an even faster rate than imports.
Total imports of goods and services increased by 5.7% to almost $205 billion from the same month last year, due primarily to an increase in imports of capital goods, consumer goods and food and beverages.
Apparel imports (CIF basis) jumped by 7.4%, to a total of $9.17 billion.
Despite the dollar’s strength, apparel exports rose 7.6% to $537 million, on top of impressive gains in both June and July, and twice the rate of overall goods and services export growth of 3.3%. On a 12-month smoothed basis, apparel exports accelerated to 4.8% in September from August’s 4.3% pace.
China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia were the top sources of U.S. imported apparel in September, with China at $3.5 billion, Vietnam with $914 million, $348 million for Bangladesh and $356 million for Indonesia. Imports from Vietnam grew by 22.7% over June of last year, while those from China grew by 5.2%.
On a 12-month smoothed basis, however, which corrects for volatility of data in a particular month, apparel import growth increased to 2.9% in September, its fastest monthly rate in four months.
Canada is the biggest market for U.S. apparel exports, followed by Mexico, the U.K., Japan and Honduras. Apparel exports to El Salvador have grown 15.2% so far this year to $93 million, and might soon overtake Honduras in the number five spot. Exports to Germany have grown by almost 7 percent to $72 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 9.5%.