NRF: Import Levels Expected To Remain Strong

The flow of imports at the nation’s major ports is expected to remain strong, according to the National Retail Federation, but growth in the months ahead is expected to be modest compared to 2018 given the rush last year to beat tariffs.

“Retailers still want to protect their customers against potential price increases that would come with any additional tariffs, but with the latest proposed tariffs on hold for now and warehouses bulging, there’s only so much they can do,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy with the NRF. “We will still see some near-record numbers this summer, but right now no one knows whether there will be additional tariffs or not.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.85 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent units in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, up 1.4% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

June was estimated at 1.87 million TEU, up 0.8% year-over-year. July is forecast at 1.93 million TEU, up 1.3%; August at 1.96 million TEU, up 3.4%; September at 1.89 million, up 1.1%; October at 1.94 million TEU, down 4.5%; and November at 1.88 million TEU, up 4.3%.

The August number would equal the total seen last December just ahead of a scheduled January 1 tariff increase that was ultimately delayed until this spring, and would be second only to the 2 million TEU record set last October. But the small year-over-year increases expected in the next few months are compared with double-digit growth in multiple months last year as retailers rushed to import Chinese merchandise ahead of expected tariff increases.