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Retail slump? E-commerce sales still ‘stunning,’ clothing ‘crazy hot’

Booming U.S. retail demand has played an outsized role in container shipping’s historic bull run. A plunge in consumer demand and import orders will have a highly negative effect on spot shipping rates.

Surging inflation and a 0.3% decline in May sales versus April have spurred headlines on a retail “slump.”

To put the latest figures in context for container shipping, American Shipper interviewed Jason Miller, associate professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

Retail sales still way above 2019

AMERICAN SHIPPER: This 0.3% decline in May reported Wednesday sounds bad. But in terms of container imports, instead of the headline number, you’d look at retail sales excluding motor vehicles and parts, because that segment has completely skewed the numbers and cars do not go by container. And it would make more sense to compare current sales to 2019, pre-COVID, because the last two-plus years have been such outliers. What are you seeing with the new numbers?

MILLER: “If you look at the numbers that just came out for May, ex-auto, and you strip out inflation, and look at nonseasonally adjusted — because seasonally adjusted data has been so volatile since COVID hit — we’re still 18% above May 2019.”

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