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NRF: Import Traffic Remains Strong As Tariffs Loom

Traffic at the nation’s largest ports remains high with new monthly records predicted for the summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.82 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, a year-over-year increase of 4.3%.  A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

“Retailers cannot easily or quickly change their global supply chains, so imports from China and elsewhere are expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “As tariffs begin to hit imported consumer goods or the parts and equipment needed to produce U.S. goods, these hidden taxes will mean higher prices for Americans rather than significant changes to international trade.”

June was estimated at 1.83 million TEU, up 6.8% year-over-year. July is forecast at 1.87 million TEU, up 3.8%; August at 1.91 million TEU, up 4.2%; September at 1.82 million TEU, up 2.1%; October at 1.89 million, up 5.3%, and November at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.6 million TEU.

The June number tied the record of 1.83 million TEU imported during a single month set in August 2017, and the forecast for July would break that record while August should set yet another record, according to the NRF.

While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, the record imports mirror strong results seen by retailers this spring and expectations of continued growth through the remainder of the year.

Retail sales as calculated by NRF – excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations – were up 5.6% year-over-year in May and up 4.6% on a three-month moving average.

The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.3 million TEU, an increase of 4.9% over the first half of 2017. The total for 2017 was 20.5 million TEU, up 7.6% from 2016’s previous record of 19.1 million TEU.