After steamrolling along with impressive gains, shipments of premium, handmade cigars cooled off in the month of April. According to numbers from the Cigar Association of America (CAA), America’s imports of handmade cigars were down 6.5 percent for the month.
One month’s data plays a small role in a year’s worth of shipments. The weak April was exacerbated by a 35 percent decline in cigars shipped from the Dominican Republic, one of the world’s leading cigar producers. Shipments were up from the other two major producers. Honduran cigars climbed 16.7 percent, to 5.6 million units, and shipments from market leader Nicaragua rose 10.7 percent, to 13.5 million.
Cigar Aficionado reached out to multiple cigar producers from the Dominican Republic and none reported an interruption to production; certainly not one that would justify such a steep decline. One explanation could be a delay in shipments that normally would have gone out in April, but were shifted to May.
When the CAA reports the numbers for May, the industry should have a better idea.
For the first four months of 2019, 98.9 million handmade cigars have been shipped to the United States, essentially flat (up 0.2 percent) when compared to the same period in 2018. This follows a strong first quarter (January through March) where overall shipments rose by 3.3 percent. Dominican shipments in the first quarter were down 1.4 percent, compared to flat shipments for Honduras (up 0.8 percent) and 3.8 percent growth for Nicaragua.
Cigarmakers in the Dominican Republic have long argued that their production figures are not accurately represented by the CAA. The CAA removes an estimated number of machine-made cigars when crunching government data, aiming to provide a figure representing only handmade cigars. Dominican producers feel their country is unfairly targeted.
“To me it’s unfair, and it’s unexplained. It’s unclear why they make this deduction to shipments from the Dominican Republic,” said cigarmaker Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana.
The CAA said it stands by its estimates of machine-made cigar removals, which it says comes directly from companies that are members of the organization, and told Cigar Aficionado that Dominican shipments were down even without the adjustments.
Premium cigar shipments have been growing at impressive levels for the past few years. Imports have risen steadily from 309.8 million in 2014 to 362 million in 2018. Shipments were up 9.7 percent last year, putting the cigar industry at its highest point for imports since 1997, the end of the 1990s cigar boom.