This month and next are shaping up to be two of the busiest months ever for ocean container imports entering the U.S., according to a report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
According to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report, which monitors import activity at 10 U.S. container ports, 1.75 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers will enter U.S. commerce in August. That would be the highest monthly volume recorded since NRF began tracking import flows in 2000, bettering the existing record set in March 2015.
June is forecast to reach 1.66 million TEUs, up 5.1 percent from last year, while July is expected to come in at 1.66 million TEUs, up 6.2 percent year-over-year. Volumes for May, the most recent month where final data is available, hit 1.72 million TEUs, up 7.3 percent from April, and up 6.2 percent from May 2016, according to the report. October volumes are expected to exceed 1.7 million TEUs, making May, July, August, and October four of the six busiest months in the report's history, if the data comes in as projected.
Import volumes in the first half of 2017 are expected to total 9.63 million TEU, up 7.1 percent from the first half of 2016, according to the report.
The strong August volumes will be the result of back-to-school demand and the start of the pre-holiday shipping season, where seagoing goods begin flowing into the U.S. market. Over the years, seagoing peak season volumes have been hitting ever earlier on the calendar; at one time, peak volumes were in September or early October.
"We're expecting retailers to import some of the largest volumes of merchandise ever," Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement. Gold said the port tracker data is a positive harbinger of the outlook for consumer demand and retail sales. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with retail sales because the report counts the number of containers and not the value of the cargo inside. However, NRF has said the import data provides a fairly accurate gauge of retailers' expectations.
The retail trade group has forecast 2017 retail sales—excluding automobiles, gasoline, and restaurants—will increase between 3.7 and 4.2 percent over 2016.
Global Port Tracker covers the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami, and Houston.