Imports at the major retail container ports are forecast to rise as the summer and back-to-school shopping season approaches, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.62 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was a decline of 4% year-over-year.
February is traditionally the slowest month of the year because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia and the lull between retailers’ holiday and summer seasons. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
However, moving past February, imports are forecast to rise. March was estimated at 1.63 million TEU, up 5.9% year-over-year. April is forecast at 1.75 million TEU, up 6.9%; May at 1.9 million TEU, up 4%; June at 1.89 million TEU, up 2%; July at 1.96 million TEU, up 2.9%, and August at 1.97 million TEU, up 4.3%.
The August number would be the highest since the record 2 million TEU set last October as retailers brought holiday merchandise into the country ahead of expected tariff increases.
“Retailers are starting to stock up in anticipation of a strong summer,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy at the NRF. “Tariff increases are on hold and progress is being reported in talks between the United States and China, so the imports we’re seeing now are driven primarily by expectations for consumer demand.”
“The U.S. consumer, while more cautious, has not stopped spending,” said Ben Hackett, found of Hackett Associates. “The inventory-to-sales ratio, however, is on the rise. Part of this can be attributed to the heavy front-loading of imports ahead of expected tariff increases that took place in 2018.”