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NRF: Changing Trade Policies Won’t Weigh on Retail Imports This Year

The U.S. economy appears to be improving and imports at major retail ports are picking up as a result.

Ports covered by the National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in February, a 14.3% dive from January, which NRF attributes to the closure of many Asian factories for Lunar New Year. February’s imports are down 7% from the same month last year, and as it’s historically the slowest month of the year for imports, experts are little concerned about the drop.

“Consumers are spending more, and these import numbers show that retailers expect that to continue for a significant period,” NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in the report released by NRF and Hackett Associates. “This is a clear sign that the economy has long-term momentum regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Whether it’s merchandise for store shelves or parts for U.S. factories, imports play a vital role in American prosperity.”

Imports for March are projected to jump 21.5% over the same time last year, to 1.61 million TEUs. Forecasts for April are 1.59 million TEUs, a 10.3% year over year increase, and in May, imports are expected to tick up a lower 3.5% over last year. The first half of 2017 will likely yield a 7.3% increase in imports to 9.6 million TEU.

This year, NRF also forecasts retail sales will be up between 3.7% and 4.2% over 2016, driven largely by job and income growth, and helped by low debt. As the report explains, cargo volume isn’t directly correlated with sales as only the number of containers is counted and not the value of the cargo inside, though it still serves as a barometer of retailers’ expectations.

“Our view that imports will continue to be stable despite the uncertainties of the new administration’s trade policies remains unchanged,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “Despite pre-election promises, there has been little real change in trade policy so far and little change is expected for the greater part of the year.”

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