US box import boom set to slow

11/12/2017

US box import growth is forecast to stall during November as retailers clear inventories, according to the National Retail Federation.

Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said stores and warehouses were now full ahead of the holiday shopping season. “Retailers have been bringing in merchandise since late summer, and supply is ready to meet the increased demand that has been building throughout the year,” he said.

The NRF forecasts that US retail sales this will grow between 3.2% and 3.8% over 2016 and that this year’s holiday sales will grow between 3.6% and 4%.

“This has turned out to be a boom year for growth in import cargo volume,” Hackett Associates’ founder Ben Hackett said. “It reflects strong growth in spending by US consumers.”

After a record-setting year, however, the rate of import growth is expected to slow in 2018. “We see no decline in volume and no recession – just time out for a breather,” Hackett said.

The latest Global Port Tracker report, published yesterday by the NRF and Hackett Associates, said that after months of record-setting volume as retailers stocked up for a busy holiday season, imports at major US container ports should be essentially flat this month compared with the same time last year. The report forecast November import volumes of 1.63 million TEU, down 0.5% from last year. December is forecast at 1.6 million TEU, up 2%.

“Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.76 million TEU in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available,” said the report. “That was a 2.3% decrease from the record-setting 1.8 million TEU recorded in August, but still a 10.5% increase year-over-year.

October was estimated at 1.75 million TEU, up 4.9% from last year. “While not records, the September and October numbers were among only six times that monthly volume has hit 1.7 million TEU or higher since NRF began tracking imports in 2000,” said the report.

Total US box imports for 2017 are forecast to total around 20 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 6.3%. That compares with 2016’s 3.1% increase over 2015. The first half of 2017 totalled 9.7 million TEU, up 7.5% from the same period in 2016.

January 2018 is forecast at 1.66 million TEU, down 1% from January 2017; February at 1.59 million TEU, up 10.9% from last year, and March at 1.5 million TEU, down 2.1%.

“The February and March percentages are skewed because of changes in when Asian factories close for Lunar New Year each year,” noted the report.

Gold warned US policy makers to avoid protectionist policies that could hurt the US economy.

“At this time of year, it’s important to remember the role imports play in making the holidays affordable for American families − and the millions of US jobs behind every product on the shelf regardless of where it is made,” he said.

“Our nation needs to avoid trade wars and other misguided trade policy that would drive up consumer prices or cost American workers their jobs.”