US imports rising, threatened by tariffs: NRF

September 12, 2018 - United States Of America

The total imports at major US retail container ports for 2018 are likely to reach 21.4 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), but increasing tariffs pose a threat, according to a recent report. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent. Imports in the first half of 2018 were 10.3 million TEU, rise of 5.1 per cent over the first half of fiscal 2017.

For August, the imports were estimated at 1.92 million TEU, up 4.8 per cent year-over-year. September is forecast at 1.83 million TEU, up 2.4 per cent; October at 1.88 million, up 5 per cent; November at 1.79 million TEU, up 1.7 per cent, and December also at 1.79 million TEU, up 3.6 per cent. January 2019 is forecast at 1.77 million TEU, up 0.4 per cent over January 2018, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

"More tariffs could come any day, and retailers have been bringing in record amounts of merchandise ahead of that in order to mitigate the impact on their customers," NRF vice- president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. "Retail sales are growing stronger than expected this year thanks to tax cuts and job creation, but tariffs are the wild card that threatens to throw away a significant portion of those benefits."

"The current boom in shipping can primarily be explained by importers’ response to the US trade war with China," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. "Consumers appear to be spending money on goods ahead of the tariff price increases that will eventually come. But there could be a rocky road ahead as the impact of tariffs begins to be more fully felt."

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.9 million TEU in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.8 per cent from June and up 5.6 per cent year-over-year.

August was the third month in a row to set a new record for the number of containers imported during a single month, following July’s 1.9 million TEU and June’s 1.85 million TEU. The previous record of 1.83 million TEU was set in August 2017.

While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, the record imports mirror strong spring and summer results expected to continue through the remainder of the year. Retail sales as calculated by NRF – excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations – were up 4.9 per cent y-o-y in July and up 5 per cent on a three-month moving average. NRF revised its annual spending forecast this summer to say 2018 sales are now expected to be up at least 4.5 per cent over 2017 rather than the 3.8 to 4.4 per cent previously forecast. (RR)