Driven by a surge in furniture and auto parts shipments to the U.S., containerized imports in March rose 7.3% over 2011. This increase came on the heels of a 5.9% decline in February. On a month-to-month basis, overall imports climbed 15.2% in March, following a contraction of 19% in February.
“Latest TEU data supports my view of very modest imports growth through the second half of the year,” said Mario O. Moreno, economist for The Journal of Commerce/PIERS. “Although the U.S. economy is showing signs of deceleration, it will likely be momentary as the FED has made it clear it is prepared to do more if conditions worsen. Imports growth should regain speed in the second half of the year.”
Leading the gains were furniture, up 15%, empty containers & drums, up 178% and auto parts, up 15%. Sales of existing homes declined for two consecutive months through March, which is a concern for the short-term imports outlook of furniture and other home goods. Solid gains were also seen in miscellaneous plastic products (+17%), bananas (+12%), and miscellaneous metal ware (+18%). On the downside, miscellaneous fruits lost 17% of TEU volume, while imports of footwear and menswear were down by 9% and 10%, respectively.
On a regional level, imports from Northeast Asia rose by the most, up 11%. North Europe followed, advancing 6%, while shipments from the Mediterranean surged 12%. Leading the losses were the Indian Subcontinent and East Coast South America, down 7% and 8% respectively.
On a country level, shipments from China showed the most gains, up 13%. This sharp jump in shipments from China is mostly owed to an easier year-over-year comparison with March 2011 base as the 2012 Lunar New Year came early. Vietnam followed with a remarkable gain of 32%, while imports from Germany jumped 11%. Leading the losses, shipments from Brazil lost 16% TEU volume in the month.
Overall U.S. containerized imports advanced 2% in Q1 year-over-year, to a total of 4,032,857 TEUs. This growth compares favorably to Moreno’s forecast of 1.5% as presented in the March 2012 issue of JOC Container Shipping Outlook.
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