Port Tracker reports more volume gains are expected, but tariff troubles still loom

Even with a new round of tariffs having recently gone into effect, United States-bound imports are pegged to stay at what are being described as record-high levels, according to data in the new edition of the Port Tracker report, which was issued today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

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Even with a new round of tariffs having recently gone into effect, United States-bound imports are pegged to stay at what are being described as record-high levels, according to data in the new edition of the Port Tracker report, which was issued today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

The ports surveyed in the report include Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

“Retailers are continuing to import merchandise in order to meet consumer demand even though tariffs are now in place on roughly half the goods imported from China and the trade war is still escalating,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Retailers are doing their best to mitigate the impact on their customers, but they are not able to quickly or easily change their sourcing. That means these tariffs will eventually mean higher prices for American consumers.”

For August, the most recent month for which data is available, Port Tracker reported that U.S.-based retail container ports handled 1.89 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), which was off 0.6% compared to July and up 3.4% annually. September was pegged at 1.84 million TEU for a 2.7% annual gain, and October is estimated to be up 4.3% at 1.87 million TEU.  November and December are expected to come in at 1.79 million TEU (a 2.3% annual increase) and 1.8 million TEU (a 4% annual increase, respectively.

If October comes in at the expected volume level, the report said that would stand as the fifth consecutive month to exceed the top month in 2017, which was August 2017’s 1.83 million TEU. That was snapped this past June at a recorded 1.85 million TEU and again in July with 1.9 million TEU.

On a cumulative basis, the report said it expects 2018 to come in at 21.4 million TEU, which would represent a 4.4% annual gain, which would top the current record of 20.5 million TEU recorded in 2017.

What’s more, these sequential gains sync up well with the NRFs expectations for 2018 holiday season (which it defines as the months of November and December) retail sales, with an estimate of a 4.3%-to-4.8% annual increase, with full-year 2018 retail sales expected to be up a minimum of 4.5% annually.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett wrote in the report that the increase in tariff-related activity is likely to impact global trading relations.

“The third round of tariffs is now in place, an increase in the level of tariffs is coming, and further tariffs have been threatened if China retaliates,” he wrote. “Of course, China will apply pinpointed tariffs of its own as will the European Union and whoever else has a tariff applied to their exports.”

He added that in the United States, the ports, particularly on the West Coast, will be negatively impacted by declining volumes and consumer prices will no doubt start to rise in the face of 25 percent tariffs.

“Someone has to take the hit – the administration cannot afford to subsidize both exporters (farmers) and importers,” he noted. “North American ports will need to adjust to fewer vessels calling as the carriers consolidate their cargos on larger ships. The shift of capacity into lay- up is on the rise as efforts to maintain freight rates become critical. Tough times are ahead for all concerned.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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Article Topics

Imports · NRF · Ocean Cargo · Port Tracker · tariffs · TEU · All Topics
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