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Financial Times>US Clothing Suppliers fall 70%

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US clothing slump hits shipments
By Jonathan Birchall in New York

Published: December 9 2008 19:12 | Last updated: December 9 2008 19:12

The slump in US clothing sales since the summer has led to a precipitous drop in the number of overseas factories shipping to the US, import documents show.

Panjiva, a firm that analyses information drawn from shipping manifests filed with US Customs, said the number of global suppliers actively serving the US market fell from 22,099 in July to just 6,262 in October, a decline of more than 70 per cent.

The firm, which has provided data to customers including Kellwood, a leading branded clothing company, and Hudson's Bay Company, the Canadian retailer, lists as "active" any supplier that has made a shipment into the US over the previous three months.

Josh Green, chief executive of Panjiva, said the numbers "paint a frightening picture of the state of the world's suppliers".

Mr Green said the decline contrasted with the picture last year, when he said there was a slight increase in the number of active suppliers over the same three-month period.

Panjiva also said 40 per cent of the suppliers still listed as active had seen year-on-year drops of 75 per cent or more in the volumes they were shipping to the US.

The percentage of active suppliers based in China and Hong Kong has remained steady at about 60 per cent - suggesting that the effects of the slowdown are being felt equally across the global clothing supply chain.

Eric Autor, international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation noted that China had already been seeing some consolidation in the number of its export factories due to rising domestic costs, even before the US economic crisis worsened.

In China, government statistics estimate that at least 67,000 factories across all sectors closed during the first half of the year.

He also argued that the credit crisis could be pushing some big apparel buyers to direct their orders to suppliers that they know well, to reduce risks of problems with fulfilment.

"It may be that the retailers are focusing on those suppliers with whom they've had a longer and closer relationship," he said.

Panjiva's data reinforce a picture of declining imports at the largest US retail container ports, where volumes are estimated to have fallen 8.5 per cent in November against last year.

The monthly Port Tracker report produced for the NRF by IHS Global Insight said the decline marked the 16th straight month in which incoming container volume at leading US cargo ports had fallen.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
 

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