High hopes remain intact for 2017 U.S. import volumes, says Port Tracker

Keeping in line with recent sentiment, the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report issued by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates is calling for United States-bound retail container volumes to hit an all-time high in August.

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Keeping in line with recent sentiment, the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report issued by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates is calling for United States-bound retail container volumes to hit an all-time high in August.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

“Retailers are selling more and that means they need to import more,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “With sales showing year-over-year increases almost every month for a long time now, retail supply chains are working hard to keep up. These latest numbers are a good sign of what retailers expect in terms of consumer demand over the next few months.”

For June, the most recent month for which data is available, ports covered in the report handled 1.69 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), which is down 2% compared to May and is up 5.6% annually. 

The report pegged July at 1.72 million TEU, which would mark a 5.6% annual gain. And should the projections for August come to fruition, it would be up 2.1% to 1.75 million TEU for its highest monthly volume since NRF first started tracking imports in 2000, topping March 2015’s 1.73 million.

What’s more with May, and potentially July and August, and October, which the report expects to be up 3% at 1.72 million TEU, at 1.7 million or more TEU, that would represent four of the six highest-volume months ever recorded by Port Tracker.  September, November, and December are projected to hit 1.67 million TEU (up 4.7%), 1.62 million TEU (down 1.4%), and 1.59 million TEU (up 1.5%), respectively.

Port Tracker expects total 2017 volumes to be up 4.9% annually at 19.7 million TEU and setting a new annual record in the process. It would also mark an improvement over the 3.1% annual gain from 2015 to 2016.

The report also pointed out that the gains in import numbers are running in tandem with gains in increased sales, with total retail sales seeing annual increases each month going back to November 2009 and retail sales as calculated by NRF, minus autos, gasoline stations, and restaurants, have seen annual gains for all but three months going back to the start of 2010.  NRF expects 2017 retail sales to be up between 3.7% to 4.2% compared to 2016.

“Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.6 percent in the second quarter this year, according to the Commerce Department, up from 1.2 percent in the first quarter. This relatively strong growth underlies the robust level of imports we have forecast and witnessed,” wrote Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett in the report. “The projection for the second half of the year is not as robust. Both private sector economists and those at the International Monetary Fund have downgraded their projections. But they still expect annual growth for 2017 will be over two percent, and that aligns with our forecast for import cargo growth, which has increased to 5.3 percent year-on-year.” 

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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