Christmas is looming large in front of us, Hanukkah fading in the rear-view mirror. I looked at 10 imports that can serve as holiday gifts to get a nonscientific sense of the shape of the economy — which looks mildly positive — and at the very least, offer some conversation-starters.
▪ Cars: No use starting small, right? For the first time since 2003, motor vehicles are the nation’s No. 1 import, having slipped past oil. That’s largely because oil imports into the United States are off a stunning 49.09 percent through October, with the price per barrel in the tanks. But motor vehicle imports are up a robust 7.27 percent to $154.51 billion in a year when overall imports are down 4.25 percent, according to WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data through October, the most recent available. That means another record year is on tap. Most cars enter from Canada (American cars), Japan, Germany, Mexico (mostly Asian) and South Korea. The fastest growth this year is with Mexico, up 10 percent and now responsible for 15 percent of all imports; and South Korea, up 22 percent and now accounting for 11 percent.
▪ Cellphones: Imports of cellphones into the United States this year are up a robust 10.51 percent to $82.14 billion and, like motor vehicles, running at a record pace again. This is the nation’s third most valuable import. Six in 10 phones entering the United States come from China, although some of the parts are often manufactured elsewhere and only the finally assembly done there. With $1.8 billion of them entering in South Florida, this Customs district ranks No. 11 nationally, down from its 2014 finish of No. 9.
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▪ Shoes: This particular category is shoes with leather “uppers” — so think both dress shoes, which might be a bit of a dud for a gift, and athletic shoes, which might work pretty well for most kids and quite a few adults. This is the nation’s No. 27-ranked import, up a smidgen in value, 1.49 percent, from last year to $11.12 billion. About 55 percent come from China and another 15 percent from Vietnam.
▪ Saws, drills and hand tools: It’s a bumper year in this category, the fourth consecutive record year, with imports up 11.66 percent to $4.29 billion from a year ago. We’re nurturing our yards and fixing stuff, with abandon. The nation’s No. 96 import a year ago at this time, it now ranks No. 82. Here’s a breakdown: $678.01 million are electric screwdrivers and the like; $590.09 million are more traditional drills; electric saws such as jigsaws and circular saws make up another $564.61 million; $218.52 are electric weed trimmers; chain saw totaled about $91.25 million through October.
▪ Exercise and sporting equipment: When all of this holiday rigmarole is said and done, we often need looser belts, slightly less snug skirts and, of course, to turn it all around, exercise equipment and sporting gear to get us moving. This one is also in record territory this year, crossing $5 billion through 10 months for the first time and up 7.04 percent since last year at this time. There are a wide range of products here. Here are a few: baseball equipment, $157.25 million; bows, arrows and archery equipment, $128.64 million; football, $99.21 million; ice hockey, $92.71 million; lacrosse, $8.95 million; and sleds, $485,135.
▪ Computers: They seem so 20th century, right? Everything’s on our phone these days. And the data shows it to be true, even though we still work on them and often have at least one at home. A decade ago, we still imported more computers than cellphones into this country. Now, computers are the nation’s fourth most valuable import, with the value up less than 1 percent to $65.53 billion from the first 10 months of 2014. Totals in 2012 and 2013 were higher than this year and last. Among the nation’s nearly four dozen Customs districts, South Florida has slipped from No. 12 at the end of 2014 to No. 14 this year.
▪ TVs: We used to call them “idiot boxes” or “boob tubes,” but now we have “smart TVs,” which only means we can access the Internet through them. And, of course, they are better and smarter. Lumped together with computer monitors in the accompanying chart, TVs make up roughly 60 percent of the total. The overall category ranks as the United States’ 10th most valuable inbound shipment, with a value of $22.15 billion, up 1 percent. About 70 percent of the TVs entering the country come not from China but from Mexico. South Florida ranked No. 13 at the end of 2014 but is No. 12 so far this year, despite a 14 percent decline.
▪ Sweaters: Not exactly a stocking stuffer but at least we have something on the affordable side to add to the list. Sweaters are the nation’s No. 23-ranked import – that’s a lot of sweaters. Imports from No. 1 China increased 6 percent while imports from No. 2 Vietnam increased 12 percent. Check your labels. Three of the top 10 importers are in this hemisphere: No. 4 Honduras, No. 5 Guatemala and No. 10 El Salvador. South Florida ranks No. 4 in the nation here, one of four Customs districts with imports in excess of $1 billion through October. Overall, imports are flat, up 0.03 percent.
▪ Women’s or girls’ slacks, dresses, skirts and jackets, not knitted: This category ranks No. 40 among all U.S. imports, with a value of $8.63 billion through October. A quick breakdown: Cotton slacks, just under $4 billion; dresses of synthetic fabric, $1.13 billion; slacks, synthetic material, $882.54 million; dresses, cotton, $480.60 million; dresses, synthetic, $334.09 million; skirts, synthetic, $215.55 million. South Florida ranks No. 9 for these imports. Overall, these imports are up 0.95 percent this year.
▪ Diamonds: It has not been the best year for diamonds, which are down 3.35 percent to $20.12 billion from the same 10 months last year. But the long-term trend is a positive one, with diamonds having risen from the nation’s No. 16-ranked import a decade ago to No. 15 five years ago to No. 11 today. Imports from Israel, the top source, are off 8 percent this year, while those from India are basically flat. The two nations each account for about one-third of all imports. South Florida ranks fourth in the nation for diamond imports; about 80 percent enter in New York City.
Reach Ken Roberts, president of World City, at email@example.com. Twitter: @tradenumbers
Nine of 10 ‘holiday’ imports increasing in value
Total, all imports
Cellular, landline phones,
TVs, computer monitors
Diamonds, not mounted
Sweaters, pullovers, vest,
knit or crocheted
Footware, sole of rubber,
plastic or leather; upper leather
Women’s or girls’ suits, not knit
Equipment, parts for exercising
Saws, drills and other hand tools
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data