Imports at the major U.S. retail container ports have slowed from their pre-holiday peak but remain at "unusually high" levels, the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced late last week.
U.S. ports covered by the NRF's Global Port Tracker report handled 1.87 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in September, which was down 1.3 percent from August levels but up 4.6 percent year over year, according to an NRF press release.
"Imports have usually dropped off significantly by this time of year, but we're still seeing numbers that could have set records in the past," said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. "Part of this is driven by consumer demand in the strong economy, but retailers also know that tariffs on the latest round of goods are set to more than double in just a few weeks. If there are shipments that can be moved up, it makes sense to do that before the price goes up."
President Donald Trump's trade dispute with China and the threat of higher tariffs in 2019 have created a "mini boom" in imports, said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett.
"We are clearly in a politically motivated trade environment," said Hackett, whose firm publishes the Global Port Tracker with the NRF.
Year over year, October imports rose 5.5 percent to 1.89 million TEU, according to the report. November is forecast at 1.81 million TEU, up 2.8 percent.
While cargo numbers do not correlate directly with sales, the imports mirror this year’s strong retail sales. NRF forecast earlier this month that 2018 holiday season retail sales — excluding automobiles, restaurants and gasoline stations — will increase 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent over last year's sales.