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Trade Squabble Threatens Supply of Cash Register Tape

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Retailers could soon be facing a nationwide shortage of paper tape for their cash registers and credit card machines if a dispute between the nation’s two largest suppliers can’t be resolved.

The Commerce Department is expected to rule this month in a trade case brought by Wisconsin-based Appleton Papers against Germany’s Koehler Paper Group claiming that Koehler “dumps” its product on the U.S. market at less than normal prices. Appleton is asking that a 75 percent tariff be imposed on Koehler. Appleton and Koehler each hold about 45 percent of the U.S. market for the special thermal paper used for receipts and credit card slips.

NRF has warned Commerce that nearly doubling the price of Koehler’s product might give Appleton a virtual monopoly that could send prices soaring and leave retailers with a severe shortage. Specialty papermaking is a complicated industrial process, and not even an established company could double production overnight.

NRF told Commerce officials that cash register tape is “absolutely essential in retail store operations” and that a shortage “would deal a serious blow to retailers” in the still-struggling economy. NRF asked that any tariff be set at a reasonable level that would not lead to “draconian” results.
Appleton claims it is trying to protect American jobs, but Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) says it isn’t that simple. He is looking into the issue because a factory in his congressional district employs U.S. workers who slit and cut large rolls of Koehler paper into the small rolls used by retailers.

Federal Spending Cuts Slowing Retail Cargo Inspections
Sequester-related federal spending cuts are threatening to slow down cargo processing at the nation’s major ports as retailers bring spring and summer merchandise into the country.

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano warned recently that port staffing cutbacks could cause Customs inspections of cargo containers — including retail goods ranging from patio furniture to swimsuits — to take as long as five days.

“Retailers are aware of the impact of the cuts on Customs operations at the ports and are working to plan accordingly so the impact on merchandise headed for store shelves is minimized,” says NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.

The slowdown comes as the economy is showing signs of improvement — which means ports will be handling an increased volume of cargo. April volume is expected to be up 3.5 percent from last year, and the first half of 2013 is expected to be up 4.3 percent from the same period in 2012.

Easter, St. Patrick’s Day Sales Steady

The Easter Bunny helped keep retail sales hopping in March, and St. Patrick’s Day made sure there was a pot of gold at the end of retailers’ rainbow.

Consumers celebrating Easter spent an average of $145, unchanged from last year but still a sizeable total of $17.2 billion, according to NRF’s annual survey by BIGinsight. An average $45 was spent on holiday meals, $26 on new spring outfits and $21 each on candy and gifts. Nearly two-thirds of the spending went to discount stores.

In a sign that the Easter Bunny is keeping up with the times, half of tablet users and more than 40 percent of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to shop. Mobile shoppers spent an average of $238 — 60 percent more than consumers overall.

On St. Patrick’s Day, revelers spent an average of $35 on green clothing, green decorations and, of course, green beer, for a total of $4.7 billion. As with Easter, the average was unchanged from last year. More than 80 percent of those celebrating the holiday said they would wear green, while close to a third went to a bar or restaurant and close to a quarter decorated homes or offices.