November 9, 2018

Retail imports remain strong ahead of tariff increase

Politically motivated trade environment fuels higher-than-usual activity at major U.S. ports, NRF-Hackett report says.

By DC Velocity Staff

Imports at the nation's major retail container ports have slowed from their pre-holiday peak but remain at unusually high levels as retailers continue to bring in merchandise before tariffs increase in January, according to the latest monthly cargo data from the National Retail Federation and consultancy Hackett Associates, released today.

The 12 U.S. ports covered by the groups' Global Port Tracker handled 1.87 million twenty-foot equivalent units in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That's down 1.3 percent from August but up 4.6 percent year-over-year, the NRF said. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

Imports usually drop off considerably by this time of year, according to NRF and Hackett Associates leaders, who credit the strong economy and looming round of tariffs for the strong results.

"President Trump's trade war with China and the threat of even higher tariffs in 2019 have created a mini-boom in imports, and businesses have rushed to bring goods into the country ahead of the tariffs," Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a statement releasing the monthly findings. "We are clearly in a politically motivated trade environment."

Looking ahead, container imports are expected to reach their highest levels on record for the remainder of the year, reaching 1.89 million TEU in October, 1.81 million TEU in November, and 1.79 million TEU in December, according Global Port Tracker estimates. Imports set a monthly record of 1.9 million TEU in July ahead of 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in goods from China that took effect in September; those tariffs are scheduled to rise to 25 percent in January.

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of 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.

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