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Retailers Still Stocking Up Ahead of Possible Tariffs, But More Slowly

Monday, July 15, 2019

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports will remain at high levels this summer but are expected to grow only modestly compared with last year’s rush to bring merchandise into the country ahead of scheduled tariff increases, according to the monthly “Global Port Tracker” report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers still want to protect their customers against potential price increases that would come with any additional tariffs, but with the latest proposed tariffs on hold for now, and warehouses bulging, there’s only so much they can do,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. “We will still see some near-record numbers this summer, but right now no one knows whether there will be additional tariffs or not. We hope the restarted negotiations with China will result in significant reforms rather than more tariffs that tax American companies and consumers.” 

President Trump announced, after meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping last month, that he would hold off on tariffs on an additional $300 billon in Chinese goods while negotiations between the two countries resume. Coupled with tariffs imposed over the past year, the new round would tax almost all goods the United States imports from China.

“Imports of consumer goods continue to grow as importers purchase items in expectation of further increases in tariffs, the cost of which will be borne by the American consumer,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “Trade has become the sharp end of foreign policy, and we continue to believe that this will ultimately damage both sides of the conflict in a lose-lose situation.”

U.S. ports covered by “Global Port Tracker” handled 1.85 million Twenty-ft. Equivalent Units (TEU) in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 6% from April and up 1.4% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-ft.-long cargo container or its equivalent.

June was estimated at 1.87 million TEU, up only 0.8% year-over-year. July is forecast at 1.93 million TEU, up 1.3%; August at 1.96 million TEU, up 3.4%; September at 1.89 million, up 1.1%; October at 1.94 million TEU, down 4.5%, and November at 1.88 million TEU, up 4.3%.

 The August number would equal the total seen last December just ahead of a scheduled January 1 tariff increase that was ultimately delayed until this spring, and would be second only to the 2 million TEU record set last October. But the small year-over-year increases expected in the next few months compare with double-digit growth in multiple months last year as retailers rushed to import Chinese merchandise ahead of expected tariff increases.

Imports during 2018 set a record of 21.8 million TEU, an increase of 6.2% over 2017’s previous record of 20.5 million TEU. The first half of 2019 totaled an estimated 10.6 million TEU, up 2.8% over the first half of 2018.

“Global Port Tracker,” which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers 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. The report is free to NRF retail members.
 

About NRF

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies, and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring, and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.

About Hackett Associates
Hackett Associates provides expert consulting, research and advisory services to the international maritime industry, government agencies and international institutions.

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