Coming off of October, which marked the worst performing month for United States-bound waterborne shipments since March 2016, or three and a half years, in absolute terms, when there was a 19.4% decline, imports fell again in November but at a reduced rate, according to data issued this week by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.
November shipments—at 11,271,782—fell 4.2% annually, marking the third straight month of annual declines. And on a year-to-date basis through November, total U.S.-bound waterborne shipments—at 11,271,782—are down 0.3% annually, which Panjiva said represents the first annual year-to-date decline since February 2017. The firm also reported that containerized freight activity fell slightly quicker than bulk, falling 5.7%, down at a slower rate than October, explaining that the slide in shipment volumes suggests the decline in total U.S. trade seen in October is likely to continue “amid overall slowing demand for imports.”
Panjiva observed that this most recent batch of data shows how the trade war has “likely continued to take a toll” on U.S. imports, which was evident with November imports from China down 12.7% on the heels of an 18.8% October decrease. When removing imports from China, Panjiva said there was a 2.1% increase globally, paced by a 38.3% boost out of Vietnam, 29.5% from Singapore, and 11.9% from Thailand. U.S.-bound imports out of Europe were up 3.5%, with Panjiva noting there could be additional growth in the months to come in advance of U.S. tariffs on imports from France, Italy, Australia, and maybe the United Kingdom related to digital service taxes.
“Things are getting ‘less bad,’ it seems,” said Chris Rogers, research director for Panjiva, in an interview. “The November numbers could be viewed as a sign of light, but what worries me, though is the rate of growth of total imports is down. The drop-off from October is, in part, due to stockpiling that was done in July and August ahead of September tariffs. But the total is down, as is demand.”
Rogers said that these numbers need to be viewed with caution in some regard, as November was up against a very strong comparison month in 2018, adding that U.S.-bound imports from everywhere except China were up 2.1% in November.
Looking at November U.S.-bound imports by commodity, Panjiva reported that apparel imports dropped 7%, with the firm citing the extension of tariffs on imports from China to “list 4A” products for that. And it also noted that machinery and electrical shipments were off 7.4%, down for the third straight month, and chemicals, which have had tariffs applied since July 2018, continued to fall, down 11.2%.
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