US Retail Imports Setting Records Despite Trade War
Increasing consumer demand and rising retail sales are driving record imports at the United States’ major retail container ports this month despite new tariffs on goods from China, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Retailers cannot easily or quickly change their global supply chains, so imports from China and elsewhere are expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future,” explained NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “As tariffs begin to hit imported consumer goods or the parts and equipment needed to produce U.S. goods, these hidden taxes will mean higher prices for Americans rather than significant changes to international trade.”
“July 6 was the beginning of the United States’ trade war,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, referring to U.S. tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese products that took effect on Friday. “There will be no winners, only losers – particularly consumers – as costs increase.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.82 million 20-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 11.6 percent from April as the annual wave of summer merchandise began to arrive and up 4.3 percent year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
June was estimated at 1.83 million TEU, up 6.8 percent year-over-year. July is forecast at 1.87 million TEU, up 3.8 percent; August at 1.91 million TEU, up 4.2 percent; September at 1.82 million TEU, up 2.1 percent; October at 1.89 million, up 5.3 percent, and November at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.6 million TEU.
The June number tied the record of 1.83 million TEU imported during a single month set in August 2017, and the forecast for July would break that record while August should set yet another record.
While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, the record imports mirror strong results seen by retailers this spring and expectations of continued growth through the remainder of the year. Retail sales as calculated by NRF – excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations – were up 5.6 percent year-over-year in May and up 4.6 percent on a three-month moving average. NRF is forecasting that total 2018 sales will be up between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent over 2017.
The first half of 2018 is expected to total 10.3 million TEU, an increase of 4.9 percent over the first half of 2017. The total for 2017 was 20.5 million TEU, up 7.6 percent from 2016’s previous record of 19.1 million TEU.