Growing imports at the nation’s major retail container ports set an all-time monthly record this summer, and 2017 is expected to reach a new yearly record, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Consumers are buying more, and retailers are scrambling to import more merchandise to keep up with the demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Docks have been busier than ever as ships unload cargo headed for store shelves, and that’s a good sign both for retail sales and the nation’s economy.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.78 million twenty-foot equivalent units in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 5% from June and 9.2% from July 2016. It was the highest monthly volume recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, beating the previous record of 1.73 million TEU in March 2015. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
Global Port Tracker had previously forecast that the record would be 1.75 million TEU and would be set in August, but the record came in higher and sooner than expected. August’s actual volume was estimated at 1.71 million TEU, a drop of 0.1% from last year but still one of the five highest months on record.
September is forecast at 1.67 million TEU, up 4.7% from last year; October at 1.7 million TEU, up 2%; November at 1.61 million TEU, down 2.3%, and December at 1.58 million TEU, up 0.5%.
While Hurricane Harvey slowed Gulf Coast cargo and Hurricane Irma is expected to do the same in Florida, neither is expected to significantly impact national totals.
Growth has slowed from the first half of the year but 2017 is expected to total 19.7 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 4.8%. 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.
After the busy holiday season, January 2018 is forecast at 1.63 million TEU, down 2.6% from January 2017.