Port Tracker report points to another record-breaking month

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The theme of records being broken remains firmly intact based on data in the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report issued this week by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

For August, the most recent month in which data is available, United States-based retail container ports covered in the report handled 1.8 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units). This now stands as the highest-volume import month recorded since the NRF started tracking imports in 2000 and tops the previous record set one month earlier in July of 1.78 million TEU. Prior to the last two months of recorded data, the previous high was 1.73 million TEU from March 2015. On an annual basis, August volumes were up 5.6%.

The report explained that these record-breaking months are seeing volumes at “unusually high” levels, with retailers importing merchandise in advance of the holiday season.

“When imports break records two months in a row, it’s hard to see that as anything other than a good sign about what retailers expect in consumer demand,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Consumers are buying more, and everybody from dockworkers to truck drivers is trying to keep up. We hope this is a sign of a strong holiday season for retailers, shoppers and our nation’s economy.”

Port Tracker estimated that September will hit 1.65 million TEU for a 3.7% annual increase, with October pegged for 1.72 million for a 2.8% annual gain. If the October number is reached, the report said that even though it would not mark a new record it would be one of only six times over the history of the report that October reached 1.7 million TEU or more. Finishing the year, November is estimated at 1.62 million TEU, which would be a 1.7% decline, while December at 1.59 million TEU would be up 1.3%.

For all of 2017, Port Tracker expects volume to be up 5.4% annually over 2016 at 19.8 million TEU, which would stand as a new record. The current full-year record is 2016 at 18.8 million TEU. The former figure speaks to the strong year imports are having in 2017, as 2016 was up only 3.1% over 2015 in terms of comparison.

What’s more, NRF recently came out with an updated forecast indicating that 2017 retail sales are expected to be up between 3.2%-3.8%, with 2017 holiday sales, which are comprised of retail sales for November and December, expected to be up between 3.6%-4%.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett wrote in the report that imports are expected to remain strong through November and then subsequently be followed by a slack period as the holiday season buildup comes to an end.

“We do, however, expect growth in imports to slacken off in the coming year, but it will remain positive,” Hackett wrote in the report. “For 2017, we project an annual growth rate just below six percent, with the East Coast marginally stronger than the West Coast. There is some uncertainty in the market as the threat of trade disputes are on the horizon, the latest being a dispute between the United States and Britain. The Trump administration’s war of words with North Korea and Iran is not helpful.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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