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December 12, 2017
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Sea container imports seen growing through summer, fall, report says

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First-half TEU volumes are forecast to be up 5.6 percent, an NRF-Hackett report says.

Import traffic at the nation's 11 major container ports should see steady increases through the summer and into the fall, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

The ports handled 1.53 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in March, up 6.8 percent from February, when many Asian factories closed for the Lunar New Year, and up 15.8 percent from unusually low numbers the same month a year ago, when Lunar New Year came a week later. March 2017 is the last month for which after-the-fact data is available.

Volumes in the first half of the year are expected to total 9.5 million TEU, up 5.6 percent from the first half of 2016, according to the report. Estimated volumes through September are as follows:

Estimated cargo volumes, April-Sept. 2017
Month Estimated TEU Vs. 1 year previous
April 1.56 million TEU +8.3%
May 1.66 million TEU +2.6%
June 1.62 million TEU +3.3%
July 1.68 million TEU +3.1%
August 1.74 million TEU +1.6%
September 1.65 million TEU +3.6 %
 
Source: "Global Port Tracker," May 2017, National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates

Cargo volume for 2016 totaled 18.8 million TEU, up 3.1 percent from 2015, which had grown 5.4 percent from 2014. NRF has forecast that 2017 retail sales—excluding automobiles, gasoline, and restaurants—will increase between 3.7 and 4.2 percent over 2016. Cargo volumes do not correlate directly with retail sales because only the number of containers is counted, not the value of the cargo. However, NRF has said that cargo volumes provide a reasonably accurate gauge of retailers' expectations.

"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," said Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president of supply chain and customs policy, in a statement. "With unemployment at its lowest level in a decade and the economy adding jobs, retailers expect shoppers to continue to increase their spending." "In the United States, the economy continues to slowly grow," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. Hackett said his firm holds to the view that growth is expected to continue in the second half of the year, albeit at a potentially slower rate than in the first half.

Global Port Tracker covers the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami, and Houston.

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