NRF: Imports at Major US Container Ports to Grow by 1.5 Pct

Imports at the major US retail container ports are set to rise 1.5 percent this month over the same time last year, National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates informed.

The year, which included five of the seven busiest months for imports on record, should end with a healthy 6.4 percent increase over 2016.

“Retailers are doing last-minute restocking as consumers head toward the finish line of the shopping season, but the majority of holiday merchandise is already in the country and ports are beginning to quiet down,” Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, said.

Gold added, however, that retailers’ ability to provide consumers with quality products at affordable prices could be threatened if the United States pulls out of the North American Free Trade Agreement or engages in other anti-trade policy that fails to recognize the increased employment and other contributions imports make to the nation’s economy.

“Despite constant threats from the administration regarding trade, especially free trade agreements, imports have been riding high,” Gold said, adding that concerns continue about what will happen in 2018 and beyond.

Ports covered by NRF’s Global Port Tracker handled 1.77 million TEU in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 0.3 percent from September and up 5.9 percent year-over-year.

November was estimated at 1.64 million TEU, down 0.3 percent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.6 million TEU, up 1.5 percent.

The total for 2017 is expected to come to 20 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 6.4 percent. That compares with 2016’s 3.1 percent increase over 2015.

The year set an all-time monthly record of 1.8 million TEU in August, and included five of only seven months when imports have hit 1.7 million TEU or higher.

January 2018 is forecast at 1.67 million TEU, down 0.5 percent from January 2017; February at 1.6 million TEU, up 11.6 percent from last year; March at 1.5 million TEU, down 2 percent, and April at 1.66 million TEU, up 3.6 percent. The February and March percentages are skewed because of changes in when Asian factories close for Lunar New Year each year.

The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting that 2017 retail sales will grow between 3.2 and 3.8 percent over 2016 and that this year’s holiday sales will grow between 3.6 and 4 percent.

“As we close out 2017, we feel very good about the events of the year,” Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates Founder,  said.

“We expect the coming six months to continue to grow, although at a reduced rate on a year-on-year basis. The second half of 2018 will be weaker than the first half, but recession is not on the horizon,” Hackett concluded.

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