NRF: Container Imports at Top US Ports Spike Ahead of New Tariffs (11 DEC 2019)

Volumes at the US major container ports bumped up significantly in November as retailers imported merchandise ahead of new tariffs set to take effect this month, according to a new report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“At this point, holiday merchandise is already in the country, so the direct impact of new tariffs won’t be seen until the season is over,” Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, commented.

“Nonetheless, tariffs are bad for both consumer and business confidence, and we hope that the December tariffs will be canceled or postponed as a sign of good faith. We need a deal with China as soon as possible so we can bring an end to the trade war that has put a drag on the U.S. economy for far too long.”

In October, President Trump announced a tentative agreement on a partial trade deal with China but the measure has yet to be finalized and a new round of tariffs on consumer goods is still scheduled to take effect December 15.

“The U.S. consumer has shrugged off the slowdown in the economy,” Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates Founder, explained.

“Even though growth has slowed, low unemployment and higher wages have helped bolster purchases and, thereby, imports for consumer goods.”

Nonetheless, the trade war is “one of the factors that is impacting our forward-looking models as we continue to show slower long-term growth in import volumes,” Hackett further said.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.88 million TEUs in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 0.6 percent from September but down 7.5 percent from the all-time monthly record of 2 million TEUs in October 2018.

November jumped to an estimated at 1.95 million TEUs, up 8 percent year-over-year as retailers frontloaded imports ahead of this month’s scheduled tariffs. That was the highest number since 1.97 million TEUs in August, when retailers did the same ahead of tariffs that took effect in September.

December is expected to drop to 1.79 million TEUs both because of the new tariffs and the usual falloff in imports as the holiday season winds down.

The first half of 2019 totaled 10.5 million TEUs, up 2.1 percent over the first half of 2018, and 2019 is expected to see a new annual record of 21.9 million TEUs. That would be up 0.8 percent from last year’s previous record of 21.8 million TEUs.

The report 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.