Steady sales growth in both automobiles and existing homes over the last few months drove U.S. container import volumes up 4.1% in January to 1,475,608 million TEUs. This marks the 3rd consecutive month of year-over-year imports increase, and a month-over-month climb of 11%.
Adding to a continuous expansion lasting more than two years, January imports of auto parts rose 19%, while home sales spurred a 3rd straight month of increases in furniture, up 6%. The activity in the housing market bodes well for the short-term outlook of these volumes — the largest import commodity group, said Mario O. Moreno, economist for PIERS/The Journal of Commerce.
“The overall employment market is modestly improving, but real consumer spending has remained flat in the last 3 months through January. Higher gasoline prices are a major risk to the import trade as lower disposable income will adversely affect spending on discretionary goods such as apparel, computers, and home goods,” Moreno cautioned, noting a 10% drop in menswear in January, though inbound shipments of footwear rose by 4% after several months of decline.
Imports from Asia continued to rise, up 2.9% in January, with shipments from China climbing the most, up 2% to 709,410 TEUs. Moreno forecasts a 2.5 percent increase in U.S. imports from Asia throughout 2012. Also of note, imports from Mexico grew 68% for this period.