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NRF: Import Volume Stays Strong Through August

Imports remained at record high levels through the end of August as retailers continued bringing in merchandise for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. The volume was the highest recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the previous record of 1.78 million TEU set in July. The record before that had been 1.73 million TEU in March 2015. August was up 1.4% over July and 5.6% over August 2016. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

“When imports break records two months in a row, it’s hard to see that as anything other than a good sign about what retailers expect in consumer demand,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy, NRF. “Consumers are buying more, and everybody from dockworkers to truck drivers is trying to keep up. We hope this is a sign of a strong holiday season for retailers, shoppers and our nation’s economy.”

September was estimated at 1.65 million TEU, up 3.7% from last year, and October is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, up 2.8%. While not a record, the October number would be one of only six times in the report’s history that the monthly total has hit 1.7 million TEU or higher. November is forecast at 1.62 million TEU, down 1.7% from last year, and December is forecast at 1.59 million TEU, up 1.3%.

Growth has slowed from the first half of the year but 2017 is expected to total 19.8 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 5.4%. That compares with 2016’s 3.1% increase over 2015. The first half of 2017 totaled 9.7 million TEU, up 7.5% from the same period in 2016.

January 2018 is forecast at 1.64 million TEU, down 2% from January 2017, and February is forecast at 1.58 million TEU, up 10% from the same month in 2017.