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Retail Imports to Keep Growing Through the Summer

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports should see steady increases through the summer and into the fall, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Regardless of whether the sales come in their stores or through their web sites, retailers see that consumers are buying more this year and they’re importing the goods needed to meet the demand,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “With unemployment at its lowest level in a decade and the economy adding jobs, retailers expect shoppers to continue to increase their spending.”

Job creation bounced back in April from a disappointing March, with nonfarm payrolls growing by 211,000, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.4%, its lowest since May 2007.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.53 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, up 6.8% from February, when many Asian factories closed for Lunar New Year, and up 15.8% from unusually low numbers the same month a year ago, when Lunar New Year came a week later than this year. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

April was estimated at 1.56 million TEU, up 8.3% from the same time last year. May is forecast at 1.66 million TEU, a 2.6% increase from last year, while June is predicted to see a gain of 3.3% to 1.62 million TEU. Looking further down the road, July cargo is forecast to be up 3.1% to 1.68 million TEU; August at 1.74 million TEU, a 1.6% increase, and September at 1.65 million TEU, up 3.6%.

The first half of 2017 is expected to total 9.5 million TEU, a 5.6% increase from the first half of 2016. Cargo volume for 2016 totaled 18.8 million TEU, up 3.1% from 2015, which had grown 5.4% from 2014.

NRF has forecast that 2017 retail sales, excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants, will increase 3.7% to 4.2% over 2016, driven by job and income growth coupled with low debt. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales because only the number of containers is counted, not the value of the cargo inside, but nonetheless provides a barometer of retailers’ expectations.

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. on the West Coast; New York-New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., and Port Everglades and Miami, Fla., on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.