14578 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 3:39pm
The domestic housing downturn, which has had a predictably harsh impact on retail sales of home furnishings in general, has finally put a dent in imports of lighting fixtures.
That is somewhat surprising, because imports to this country do not necessarily follow the trajectory of retail sales. A steadily weakening U.S. currency requires importers to spend more for even the same amount of units they took in the year before: the weaker the dollar, the more are needed to buy goods.
Nevertheless, data from the U.S. Commerce Department show that U.S. imports of the category in 2007 dropped more than 7 percent, measured in dollars; that is the first decline since 2001, a year in which the country was mired in recession. In one year, the United States went from importing $1.93 billion dollars worth down to $1.78 billion.
Among the 10 leading countries exporting their fixtures to the U.S. market, no fewer than eight reported declines. Canada, which is eighth on the list, dropped nearly 32 percent in its exports. Hong Kong and Taiwan, third and fourth, respectively, reported declines of more than 28 percent each. Only Italy and the United Kingdom showed an increase in exports.
And the decline will most likely deepen this year. Preliminary data for the first quarter, from January to March, show lighting fixture imports down another 11.9 percent from the same period last year. While some of the exporting nations have realized increases so far this year, China, which massively dominates the U.S. import market—accounting for more than eight out of 10 import dollars—saw its exports drop 15.6 percent. That is double the decline experienced by the Asian giant for the full year 2007.
The picture with lamps, which includes bulbs and parts, is somewhat different for 2007, but portables may succumb to the same array of forces as the current year wears on.
For 2007, lamp exports to the United States actually increased, and by a considerable amount: a quarter more than in 2006. The discrepancy may reflect that it is far easier, and less expensive, to purchase a portable lamp than to undertake installation of a fixture.
Even so, China, which commands three-fourths of the U.S. import market for this commodity, suffered a drop in its exports during the year. And preliminary data for the first quarter of 2008 show overall imports of electric lamps—on tables, desks and floors—down 4.5 percent. More telling, China’s decline during the first quarter this year is twice as steep. — Nathan Weber