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U.S. sea container imports on record pace for 2017

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The rise in seagoing import traffic will make August the busiest month on record, according to the most recent "Global Port Tracker" report.

Continuing sales growth is driving imports at the nation's major retail containerports on a fast pace that could make August the busiest month ever, approaching a new annual record by the end of 2017, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

Ports covered in the report handled 1.69 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2 percent from May but up 7.5 percent from June 2016. July was estimated at 1.72 million TEU, up 5.6 percent from the same time last year, according to the report.

Looking ahead, August is forecast to reach 1.75 million TEU, up 2.1 percent from the same month last year, NRF said. That would be the highest monthly volume recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the 1.73 million TEU seen in March 2015. The 1.7-million-plus numbers seen in May and July and now expected for August and October would represent four of the six busiest months in the report's history.

Extending the forecast through year's end, those numbers would bring 2017 to a total of 19.7 million TEU, topping last year's previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 4.9 percent, according to NRF. That compares with 2016's 3.1-percent increase over 2015.

"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."

The import numbers come as the U.S. economy continues its run on an eight-year expansion, the report shows. Total retail sales have grown year-over-year every month since November 2009, and retail sales as calculated by NRF - excluding automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants—have increased year over year in all but three months since the beginning of 2010. Likewise, retail employment, despite recent short-term fluctuations, has increased by 1.5 million jobs during the same period.

The Global Port Tracker study, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Va., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Port Everglades, Fla., and Miami on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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