The sustainability of premiumization is a key investor debate, with C...
2019-09-12 27 ENGLISH REPORTS
China has responded to the imposition of tariffs on its exports to the US with tariffs of its own on almost all of the products it imports from the US. Chinese tariffs now cover around $110 billion of US products, nearly all of its total imports from the country ($120 billion in 2018). Softlines are a small part of overall US exports to China. The largest exports are civil aviation, soybeans, cars and capital goods (Figure 13).
In our opinion, it is clear that the shift of softlines manufacturing away from China is a trend that has been underway for a number of years. It is perhaps inevitable that the current US-China trade war, with its very real implications for the overall cost of supply, will accelerate the trend. The imposition of 15% tariffs on many Chinese softlines on 1 September, will clearly have a material effect on the overall cost of production of products made in China. Most US apparel companies expect to reduce their sourcing from China A recent survey for the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) found that 83% of respondents in 2019 expected to reduce their sourcing from China in the next two years, up from 67% in 2018. Only 13% expected to maintain their current level of sourcing from China, the lowest since the survey began in 2014 (Figure 14).
By contrast, 80% of respondents to the USFIA survey said they expected to increase sourcing from Vietnam over the next two years, up from 74% in 2018 and 37% in 2017. 60% expected to increase sourcing from Bangladesh, up from 56% in 2018 and 32% in 2017. The Gap has commented that it intends to continue to reduce its exposure to China, sustaining a trend that has seen the proportion of its product manufactured there fall from 25% to 21% in recent years. Most major apparel companies have sourced from countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh for several years already. Between 2012 and 2017, the value of Vietnam’s clothing export trade increased at a CAGR of 14.0%, closely followed by Cambodia on 12.3% (Table 3).
The same proportion of respondents (77%) said that the sourcing shift away from China will continue even if the tariff threat is removed, with only 10% believing an end to the trade war will stop the trend. Not everything can be sourced elsewhere and a financial impact seems likely But despite the real effect that the trade war appears to be having on apparel companies’ strategic sourcing patterns, only 23% say it has affected their financial performance. The US casualwear brand American Eagle Outfitters (AEO US, Neutral, covered by J.P. Morgan’s US Retailing analyst Matthew Boss) said in June: ‘Regarding tariffs, those announced to date are immaterial. However, if tariffs are expanded to apparel, there would be an adverse effect on our financial results. With that said, we are actively collaborating with our sourcing partners and believe we can significantly mitigate any potential impact from additional tariffs. We are also working to further diversify our production capabilities across geographies.’ Robert Madore, CFO, American Eagle Outfitters. 5 June 2019. It may be that the ultimate cost is borne by the US consumer The imposition of the 15% List 4A tariffs on 1 September does indeed extend the US tariffs to Chinese apparel exports. The immediate impact may simply be higher costs to US consumers as clothing companies look to recoup the additional cost of supply. The CFO of The Gap recently commented that ‘we need to figure out how to recover any tariffs that might be imposed and we will do that through negotiations with venders and other identified ways to reduce the associated AUC of the product. And then at the end of the day, we will be forced to pass that on to customers through price increases. [It is a] real cost that ultimately will be borne by the customer.’ If passed through to the consumer, a 15% tariff on Chinese imports could increase US consumer spending on clothing by 6.1% (assuming no change in sourcing or consumer behaviour and 41% of clothing continues to be imported from China).
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