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NRF: October Imports Hit New Record

The number of containers coming into the U.S. reached 2 million in October, the first time that level has been breached, according to the monthly Global Tracker Report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

According to the NRF report, U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.04 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 9% from September and up 13.6% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

“President Trump has declared a temporary truce in the trade war, but these imports came in before that announcement was made,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “We hope that the temporary stand-down becomes permanent, but in the meantime, there has been a rush to bring merchandise in before existing tariffs go up or new ones can be imposed.”

November was estimated at 2.01 million TEU, a 14% year-over-year increase that would have been a new record if not for the October number. December, normally a slow month with holiday merchandise already on the shelves, is forecast at 1.83 million TEU, up 6.1% year-over-year. Those numbers would bring 2018 to a total of 21.8 million TEU, an increase of 6.5% over last year’s record 20.5 million TEU.

Both year-over-year growth rates and total volume are expected to slow considerably in January when 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products that took effect in September had been scheduled to increase to 25%.

The President recently announced after a meeting with Chinese President Xi that the increase— and a threat to impose tariffs on all Chinese products— would be put on hold while the two countries conduct 90 days of negotiations. Official action to delay the tariff increase has yet to be announced, however.

January 2019 is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, down 2.1% from January 2018; February at 1.67 million TEU, down 1% year-over-year; March at 1.57 million TEU, up 1.7%, and April at 1.7 million TEU, up 3.7%.