A buildup in U.S. retail inventory sheds a new light on the departure from seasonality this year in shipments from China to the United States. The holiday-season peak arrived two months early. It’s possible that orders were placed early as retailers and wholesalers remembered the U.S. West Coast port delays of a year ago. However, it now looks highly likely that retailers simply had less money to spend as the year wore on, having overbought earlier expecting a shopping boost that still hasn’t arrived. The late holiday-season orders, then, could have been scaled back or canceled as retailers lowered their expectations for the season at the same time that they cut their budgets.
If it turns out to be true that consumers are “forgetting” to go shopping, that will represent a new and unexpected dimension in consumer behavior that will have to be factored into future planning at retail and in economic policy.