The economy is looking strong as 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 recently released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Regardless of whether the sales come in their stores or through their websites, retailers see that consumers are buying more this year and they’re importing the goods needed to meet the demand,” NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.
“With unemployment at its lowest level in a decade and the economy adding jobs, retailers expect shoppers to continue to increase their spending,” Gold added.
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.53 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was 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.
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, up 2.6% from last year; June at 1.62 million TEU, up 3.3%; July at 1.68 million TEU, up 3.1%; August at 1.74 million TEU, up 1.6%, and September at 1.65 million TEU, up 3.6%.
The first half of 2017 is expected to total 9.5 million TEU, up 5.6% 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 between 3.7% and 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.