Retail industry puts USA imports back on track
US imports reached all-time highs as retail sales bounced back from the Covid crisis as stores stocked up for Christmas sales, according to Global Port Tracker released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“After staying at home this spring, consumers are buying again and retail supply chains are working overtime to keep up with demand,” said NRF vice president Jonathan Gold.
“They are also stocking up earlier than usual because they know many consumers will be shopping early this year to avoid crowds. Some holiday merchandise that normally wouldn’t arrive until Halloween is already here,” said Mr Gold.
US port volumes up with 9.7% since July
US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.1 million TEU in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 9.7 per cent from July and up eight per cent year on year.
It was the highest number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, beating 2.04 million TEU seen in October 2018 ahead of a scheduled tariff increase.
September was estimated at 2.08 million TEU, a 10.9 per cent year-on-year increase. September’s actual total won’t be known until next month but could become the second-highest month on record. October is forecast at 1.86 million TEU, down 1.1 per cent year over year.
Those numbers would amount to a record 7.96 million TEU during the July-October “peak season” when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays, topping 7.7 million TEU in 2018.
Three-quarters of peak season imports – an estimated 6.1 million TEU – have already arrived, preparing retailers for the early shopping NRF expects this year.November is forecast at 1.61 million TEU, down 5.1 per cent year on year, and December at 1.53 million TEU, down 11.2 per cent.
That would bring 2020 to 20.5 million TEU, a drop of 4.9 per cent from last year to tie 2017 for the lowest annual total in three years.
The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.1 per cent from last year.
US economy recovers and consumers become confident again
January 2021 is forecast at 1.67 million TEU, down 8.2 per cent from January 2020, while February is forecast at 1.49 million TEU, down 1.5 per cent year on year.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the summer import growth reflects retail sales that have seen gains each month since June, including 2.6 per cent in August.
“The US economy is beating forecasts with consumption up and imports setting new records,” Mr Hackett said. “Retail sales are a big part of consumer spending, so one would expect to see an increase when the economy improves and consumers are confident. But less than six months after the biggest decreases on record this spring, retail sales have bounced back to pre-crisis levels.”
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