US box imports set for record volumes


Transpacific spot rates could see further gains this summer with eastbound volumes predicted to hit record highs.

According to the latest monthly Global Port Tracker produced by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, containerised box imports to the US will surge to 1.74m TEU in August. The total would be the highest monthly volume recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the 1.73 million TEU seen in March 2015.

“We’re expecting some of the largest import volumes we’ve ever seen, and that’s because retailers are responding to strong consumer demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

The NRF’s analysis supported the findings of the latest APAC Forwarding Index report produced by MKA and Logistics Trends & Insights. As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List last week, on the head-haul APAC-North America ocean box trade, 44% of respondents predicted higher volumes in August compared to May, with only 11% expecting box numbers to fall.

“The peak season is building nicely on APAC-US trade lane by sea,” Index analyst Cathy Roberson told Lloyd’s Loading List. “We expect consistent volume growth this summer with weekly box volumes peaking in late July or the first weeks of August.

“If lines maintain their discipline on capacity, then this should be reflected in freight rates, although a number of survey respondents said they expected spot rate volatility to remain a feature on the Transpacific trade in the coming months.”

Spot freight rates on the Shanghai-Los Angeles and Shanghai-New York trades rose up by $84 and $33 per 40ft box, respectively, last week according to Drewry.

Ahead of the peak season, spot rates on the Shanghai-Los Angeles trade are now 64% higher than a year earlier, while Shanghai-New York box rates are 37% up year-on-year.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61m TEU in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.8% from March and up 11.3% compared to April 2016.

May was estimated at 1.69 million TEU, up 3.9% from the same time last year. June is forecast at 1.64 million TEU, up 4.1% from last year; July at 1.68 million TEU, up 3.5%; August at 1.74 million TEU, up 1.6%; September at 1.64 million TEU, up 2.8%, and October at 1.69 million TEU, up 1.3%.

First half 2017 US box imports are expected to total 9.6 million TEU, up 6.4% year on year.

As well as the August total set to be a new monthly record, the May and October numbers would be among the five highest ever recorded, a performance buoyed by consistent consumer demand for retail products.

The NRF now expects 2017 US retail sales – excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – to rise by between 3.7 and 4.2% this year 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,” said the Global Port Tracker report.