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West Coast Port Slowdown Presumed Culprit in November Apparel Import Decline

November 2014 was an even quieter November than usual for apparel imports, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Commerce, while  exports rose more than expected.

Apparel imports plunged by 3.5% in the month, to almost $6.7 billion, a huge reversal from October, in which they grew by 4.6% on a year-on-year basis.

The dollar’s steady rise to record levels and the precipitous drop in oil prices failed to compensate for the dramatic impact of the West Coast port slowdowns, which industry sources report has resulted in delays of up to two weeks on shipments, and which has many shippers  now diverting arriving product to ports on the Gulf and East coasts.

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On a 12-month smoothed basis, which corrects for volatility of data in a particular month, apparel import growth slowed to 2.4% in November from 3.3% in October.

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China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia were the top sources of U.S. imported apparel in the month, with China at $2.1 billion, Vietnam with $658 million, $310 million for Indonesia and $293 million for Bangladesh. Imports from Vietnam grew by 3.5% over November of last year, while those from China fell by 4.5%.

Apparel exports continued to outperform the total export market, however, increasing 2.9% to $538 million. Overall exports of goods and services declined by 1.1% in the month.

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On a 12-month smoothed basis, apparel exports slowed slightly to 5.2% in November from October’s 5.4% pace.

At $1.9 billion year-to-date, or 34% of the total, Canada is the biggest market for U.S. apparel exports, followed by Mexico ($938 million), the U.K. ($290 million), Japan ($242 million) and Honduras ($121 million).

Apparel exports to Mexico have surged by more than 12 percent so far this year, making it one of our fastest growing apparel export markets. Once a major production hub for U.S. apparel manufacturers, Mexico’s rising wage rates have made it less attractive for production, but has helped stimulate the country’s demand for U.S. and European brands.

Exports to Chile and Australia have grown by 9 and 10 percent to almost $100 million each, placing them among the top 10 destinations for U.S. apparel exports.

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