Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.8 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. The volume was the highest recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the previous record of 1.78 million TEU set just one month earlier in July. The record before that had been 1.73 million TEU in March 2015. August was up 1.4 percent over July and 5.6 percent over August 2016. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
September was estimated at 1.65 million TEU, up 3.7 percent from last year, and October is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, up 2.8 percent. While not a record, the October number would be one of only six times in the report’s history that any month has hit 1.7 million TEU or higher. November is forecast at 1.62 million TEU, down 1.7 percent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.59 million TEU, up 1.3 percent.
Growth has slowed from the first half of the year but 2017 is expected to total 19.8 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 5.4 percent. That compares with 2016’s 3.1 percent increase over 2015. The first half of 2017 totaled 9.7 million TEU, up 7.5 percent from the same period in 2016.
January 2018 is forecast at 1.64 million TEU, down 2 percent from January 2017, and February is forecast at 1.58 million TEU, up 10 percent from the same month in 2017.
The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting that 2017 retail sales
will grow between 3.2 and 3.8 percent over 2016 and that this year’s holiday sales
will grow between 3.6 and 4 percent. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales because only the number of containers is counted, not the value of the cargo inside, but nonetheless provides a barometer of retailers’ expectations.
“The volume of containers imported through August continues to grow and we expect this to continue through October before a slack period arrives as the holiday season inventory buildup comes to an end,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We do expect growth in imports to slacken off in the coming year, but it will still remain positive.”