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Statistically Speaking: 2017 Furniture Imports Grow Almost 3X Faster Than Retail Sales

Despite uncertainties over U.S. trade policies (see box insert), imports of household furniture continue to grow in double digits. In 2017, imports of household furniture rose 10.7 percent compared to only 3.8 percent growth in retail sales.

The Great Recession, 2007 to 2009, brought with it a major collapse in international trade – deeply affecting both imports and exports of household furniture. In recent years, growing wages, higher employment, a boost in consumer confidence and a healthy housing market have propelled import growth. Meanwhile, exports have struggled to maintain the initial post-recession climb. This article picks up from Statistically Speaking’s October 2015 article Imports on Upswing.

In 2017 the U.S. ran a $569 billion dollar trade deficit in all goods and services. Household furniture products at $30.7 billion in imports versus only $3.2 billion in exports represented only 3.4 percent of that deficit. Most astonishing, however, is that for all U.S. goods, the ratio of imports to exports was 1.5 while the ratio for furniture products was 9.7, almost 10 to 1 (Figure 1).

 

 

World dollar totals of household furniture imports have nearly doubled from $15.58 billion in 2009 to $30.74 billion in 2017 – increasing an average of nine percent a year (Table A). Already just a fraction of U.S imports, U.S. exports of household furniture have failed to continue the upswing experienced from 2009 to 2015 when it jumped over $1 billion. Over the last two years (2015 to 2017) exports have declined by -7.1 percent down to $3.15 billion.

Furniture Imports by Country

 

Over 200 countries export furniture into the U.S. but only nine represent over 90 percent of the total value coming into this country. China’s furniture exports alone have grown to roughly 60 percent of total U.S. imports – up 19.3 percentage points from 2002 to 2017. China has retained its hold on U.S. Imports through the recession. Since the peak of the recession in 2009, the value of imports from China has grown 98.8 percent to $18 billion (Table B).

Reversing dramatically over the previous decade, Canada’s decline alongside Vietnam’s rise still continues from 2009 to 2017. Vietnam has jumped from 0.5 percent of total U.S. imports in 2002 to 13 percent in 2017, while Canada has plummeted from 18.3 percent to 5.6 percent in the same 15 year period. Canada’s value of imported furniture fell 30.4 percent 2002 to 2017. Mexico has lessened its share of U.S. imports slightly since 2015 – down 0.6 percentage points to 4.5 percent in 2017, but the value of imports has increased by 3 percent to $1.4 billion (Table B and Figure 2).

Of the top countries, Vietnam had the highest growth in furniture exports to the U.S. last year increasing 16.1 percent in dollar value. In the last 15 years Vietnam has come out of nowhere to be the second largest exporter of furniture to the U.S. behind China (Figure 2).

Major Furniture Imports by Material Type

Methodology: Household furniture imports and exports are compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Division from more than 200 countries by product type and material.

Wood furniture imports have always been king but are now feeling the pressure from upholstery and metal. It has only been in the past two years that wood imports surpassed pre-recession import levels. But at $11.8 billion in 2017, wood products are still the largest material category among furniture imports but have receded to 38.5 percent of total furniture imports in 2017 – down from 56.5 percent in 2002 (Table C). Conversely both upholstery and metal have been increasing at a high rate, and combined, now account for almost 50 percent (49.2 percent) of all imports as shown in Figure 3.

Purchases of upholstery and metal household furniture from around the world have increased more than 68 percent since 2007. Although it is the smallest imported product category, bedding has catapulted since 2002 – increasing over 2,000 percent. Reaching $1 billion in 2017, imports of mattresses have grown 51.8 percent in just a year. Much of this increase can be attributed to adjustable bed bases and mattresses of cellular rubber or plastics (Figure 3).

Wood household furniture imports totaled $11.8 billion in 2017 and are up 9 percent over the previous year. At a 38 percent share of wood furniture imports in 2017, China still owns the wood category at $4.5 billion, but has lost significant share to Vietnam. Vietnam has grown from less than 1 percent of wood furniture imports to over 25 percent from 2002 to 2017. Canada, once a major player in wood furniture, has fallen to only 6.7 percent of the total. Malaysia and Indonesia continue their steady wood niches but control less than 6 percent of wood imports each (Table D).

Unlike the wood category, China has very little competition in upholstered goods in the international marketplace (Table E). Although not producing as high a market share, Vietnam has also made great strides in upholstery – growing from $7 million in 2002 to $700 million in 2017 and having a one year increase of 51.2 percent from 2016 to 2017. Once a major player, Italy was the leading exporter of upholstery to the U.S. until 2003 when China surpassed them. Once importing 28 percent of upholstered furniture, now the U.S. imports only 3 percent from Italy.

Even more so than upholstery, China dominates the market in imported metal household furniture with 75 percent market share. China increased from $1.7 billion in 2002 to $5.6 billion in 2017 – a jump of 225 percent in 15 years (Table F). While imports from Canada have grown since the bottom of the recession in 2009, it continues to lose market share to China. Imports from both Mexico and Taiwan have decreased since 2015, but Vietnam has maintained an annual average increase of 38 percent.

Exports by Country

As previously detailed, the U.S. exports $1 in furniture products for every $10 in imported furniture. After rising over 45 percent from the recession (2009) to $3.4 billion in 2015, U.S. exports of household furniture have decreased by 7 percent in 2 years to $3.15 billion in 2017. Only three countries – Canada, Mexico, and China – represent more than 3 percent of U.S. imports. More than half (56.3 percent) of U.S. furniture exports is to Canada (Table G).

The U.S. trade deficit in household furniture grew an additional negative $3 billion dollars last year, from -$24.6 billion in 2016 to -$27.6 billion in 2017. U.S. imports continue to increase from China alongside a growing Vietnam wood manufacturing presence. A poor showing for U.S. exports over the past two years is also troubling. With threats of trade wars brewing, and the U.S.’s dependency on China for its household furniture, the industry does not want to get caught in the crosshairs.

 







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