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Tariff talk inspires new records for retail imports

Tariff fears are driving port traffic.
Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports have set two new records this summer and are expected to set another this month, according to the National Retail Federation’s monthly Global Port Tracker report.
Tariffs on most consumer products have yet to take effect, but retailers appear to be getting prepared before that can happen,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker are: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.
Together they handled 1.85 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 1.6% from May and up 7.8% year-over-year.
The June number set a new record for the number of containers imported during a single month, beating the previous record of 1.83 million TEU set in August 2017, NRF noted. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent. July was estimated at 1.88 million TEU, up 4.4% year-over-year. This figure is subject to revision when the numbers become final. August is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, up 4.4%, and “should set yet another record,” NRF added. Predictions for the remainder of 2018 are: September at 1.82 million TEU, up 2.1%; October at 1.88 million, up 4.9%; November at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.6%; and December at 1.79 million TEU, up 4%.
While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, NRF said the record imports mirror strong results seen by retailers this spring and summer that are expected to continue through the remainder of the year.
Retail sales as calculated by NRF – excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations – were up 4.2% year-over-year in June and up 4.4% on a three-month moving average. The organization is forecasting this year’s total sales to be up between 3.8% and 4.4% over 2017. The first half of 2018 totaled 10.3 million TEU, an increase of 5.1% over the first half of 2017. The total for 2018 is expected to reach 21.4 million TEU, an increase of 4.4% over last year’s record 20.5 million TEU.