NRF: December Import Levels Up

As the year nears an end, the level of imports at the nation’s major ports continues to grow, according to a monthly report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

For December, imports are expected to grow 3.2%, according to figures from the Global Port Tracker report. NRF officials said this growth shows retailers are working to get last minute items into stores just in time for the holiday season.

“There’s still shopping to be done, and retailers are making sure the gifts that need to be under a tree are waiting on the shelves,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy with the NRF. “Imports are up a healthy amount over this time last year, and that’s a good sign for holiday sales and the economy.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.67 million twenty-foot equivalent units in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That figure was up 4.6% from September and up 7.4% from October 2015. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

November was estimated at 1.53 million TEU, up 3.6% from last year, and December is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 3.2%.

Cargo volume for 2016 is expected to total 18.6 million TEU, up 2% from last year. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4% from 2014. The first half of 2016 totaled 9 million TEU, up 1.6% from the same period in 2015.

January 2017 is forecast at 1.54 million TEU, up 3.2% from January 2016; February at 1.49 million TEU, down 3.5% from last year; March at 1.38 million TEU, up 4.4% from last year; and April at 1.54 million TEU, up 6.4%.

With cargo growth at covered U.S. ports for the year coming in at only 2%, Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said a trend of imports exceeding growth of gross domestic product appears to have ended.

“This is a new phenomenon,” said Hackett. “It was not long ago when industry leaders were doing their forecasts based on trade growth outpacing GDP by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. Those days are gone.”