Furniture exports’ drop fueled by double-digit decline to China

Melisa D. Galvin

HIGH POINT — Furniture exports declined last year, a shift that was due not only to a double-digit decline in shipments to China, but also to declines in other major countries such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Canada and the U.K.

In fact shipments dropped to all but one of the top 10 destinations for U.S.-made case goods and upholstery. Japan’s shipments for the year were up 10% to $34 million, from $30.9 million in 2018.

Shipments to the rest of the world overall were down 7% overall last year, falling to just over $2.2 billion from $2.4 billion in 2018.

Canada, still the largest consumer of U.S.-made furniture, saw its purchases fall 2% to just over $1.3 billion from $1.34 billion in 2018.

Meanwhile, shipments to Mexico fell 16% to $127.2 million from $151.3 million. It was followed by the U.K., where shipments dropped 5% to $68.6 million from $72.5 million in 2018.

China represented one of the largest drops, with shipments falling 46% to $51.7 million from $94.9 million in 2018. It was followed by South Korea, down 5% to $42 million from $44.4 million, and Saudi Arabia, down 30% to $36.5 from $52.1 million.

Other countries that saw declines in shipments from the U.S. were the Bahamas, down 18% to $33.5 million from $40.7 million; Australia down 4% to $26.7 million from $27.9 million; and the United Arab Emirates, down 4% to $24.6 million from $25.5 million.

Much of the drop in demand in China in particular, observers note, was due to retaliatory tariffs China placed on U.S.-made products. Not only did this make U.S.-made furniture more expensive in that market, but it also shifted the demand to countries such as Italy and other parts of the world.

Observers note that the strength of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies such as the Canadian dollar and Mexican peso also made U.S. goods more expensive in those and other countries, which could have reduced demand in those markets. In addition, the strength of U.S. retail in the fourth quarter possibly could have reduced emphasis on exports in that period.

Depressed oil prices also could have been a factor, particularly relating to decreased shipments to countries in the Middle East.

Brad Miller, vice president, international sales at Hooker Furniture, said that despite some impact on demand in China due to retaliatory tariffs, China remained the top international customer for its Sam Moore upholstery division.

“I would say our bright spot looking at 2019 was Sam Moore sales into China,” Miller said of international sales. “I think they still value made in America upholstery, and that product line offers customization, fairly quick lead times and good quality. When I travel there, I see that U.S. made is still being promoted.”

He said the company also makes the line easy to buy as it can be mixed on containers with other product in the Hooker line.

John Jokinen, president and CEO of luxury furniture manufacturer EJ Victor, said that exports remain important, although the company saw some declines in 2019.

“The biggest markets for us were in the Middle East and Russia, along with South America and Mexico,” he said, adding, “We also did some business in China although it was less that it once was.”

Overall, he said, “Our export business is a little less than what it used to be. If you look at Saudi Arabia and Russia, those two countries rely on the price of oil. As a result, their business was affected.

“Those were two of our larger export countries. They still buy, but it is less than what it would be under a good oil market.”

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