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Retail Imports Continue to Grow as Economy Expands

April 19, 2017
With the economy in good shape, consumers are willing to spend over the next few months which is driving up imports.

With the economy in good shape, consumers are willing to spend over the next few months which is driving up imports, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“This is a clear sign that the economy has long-term momentum regardless of month-to-month fluctuations,” explains Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy, NRF. “Whether it’s merchandise for store shelves or parts for U.S. factories, imports play a vital role in American prosperity.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was a decrease of 14.3% from January as many Asian factories shut down for Lunar New Year, and down 7% from the same month a year ago.

Coming after the winter holidays and before retailers stock up for summer, February is historically the slowest month of the year for imports. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

March was estimated at 1.61 million TEU, up 21.5% from unusually low numbers last year, when Lunar New Year came a week later than this year.

April is forecast at 1.59 million TEUs, up 10.3% from last year; May at 1.68 million TEUs, up 3.5%; June at 1.66 million TEUs, up 5.3%; July at 1.71 million TEUs, up 5.1%, and August at 1.74 million TEUs, up 1.6%.

The first half of 2017 is expected to total 9.6 million TEUs, up 7.3% from the first half of 2016. Cargo volume for 2016 totaled 18.8 million TEUs, 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.

“Our view that imports will continue to be stable despite the uncertainties of the new administration’s trade policies remains unchanged,” says Ben Hackett, founder, Hackett Associates. “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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