US box imports set for record levels this peak season

7/13/2017

The Transpacific peak season could bring record US import volumes this year, according to forecasts within the latest Global Port Tracker report, building on the already strong first half of the year.

Produced by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, the report said US containerised imports handled at major retail ports in August could reach 1.75m TEU. If correct, that would be the highest monthly figure since the NRF started tracking imports in 2000, topping the 1.73 million TEU seen in March 2015.

According to the report, both July and August will be bumper months as merchants enter the back-to-school season and begin to stock up for the holiday season that will follow.

“We’re expecting retailers to import some of the largest volumes of merchandise ever,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. “That’s a good indicator of what could be ahead for consumer demand and retail sales, and it’s a sign that retail is going strong despite what you might read in the headlines.”

The forecasts from the NRF support Drewry’s latest Transpacific spot freight readings. Average spot prices on the Shanghai-Los Angeles trade rose 23% to US$1,390 per 40ft container in the week ended 6 July, while rates on the Shanghai-New York route also surged last week, up 19% to $2,045 per 40ft container.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.72 million TEU in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 7.3% from April and 6.2% higher than in May 2016.

June was estimated at 1.66 million TEU, up 5.3% from the same time last year. July is forecast at 1.71 million TEU, up 5.1% from last year; August at 1.75 million TEU, up 2.2%; September at 1.66 million TEU, up 4.3%; October at 1.71 million TEU, up 2.2%, and November at 1.6 million TEU, down 2.7% from last year.

The 1.7 million-plus numbers for May, July, August and October represent four of the six busiest months in the report’s history, while first-half figures are expected to total 9.63 million TEU, up 7.1% from the first half of 2016.

The NRF has forecast that 2017 retail sales – excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – will increase between 3.7% and 4.2% over 2016, driven by job and income growth coupled with low debt.

Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates Founder, said the increases in imports have come despite threats by the Trump administration to impose new limits on international trade.

“Some actions to date appear to have alienated traditional allies and are causing them to work more closely together, leaving the United States on the sidelines,” Hackett wrote in his monthly editorial comment in the report. “‘America First’ may well result in protectionist actions that will cut the United States off from the benefits of the global value chain and economic growth for US importers and exporters.”