Imports set a peak season record this summer and fall as retailers stocked up for the holidays, according to preliminary data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, released Monday.
Preliminary results from the groups’ monthly Global Port Tracker report showed that U.S. ports handled an estimated 8.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from July through October, a 6% increase over last year and higher than the previous peak-season record of 7.7 million TEUs set in 2018, according to NRF and Hackett Associates. October data is subject to revision pending finalization of the numbers, the groups said.
NRF and Hackett estimate October imports at 2 million TEUs, up 6.5% year-over-year, and are forecasting a slight increase in November and a decline in imports for December. Despite the summer and fall gains, 2020 is expected to see an overall decline in imports, with an anticipated 3.4% drop to 20.5 million TEUs—the lowest annual total since 2017.
Representatives from NRF and Hackett Associates said the preliminary results are an encouraging sign for the retail economy as it struggles to overcome this year’s pandemic-related challenges.
“Part of this surge was fueled by restocking after retail sales rebounded this summer and part could be making sure there aren’t shortages if we see panic buying again,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “The economic challenges of the pandemic aren’t over yet, but this clearly shows how an industry that has been under stress is fighting back in a positive way. Retailers don’t import merchandise they don’t think they can sell, so this is a good sign for the holiday season.”
Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecasts for 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.