Imports Will Grow Nicely Through the Fall

With unemployment hitting extremely low levels and workers’ wages rising, the nation’s ports should see a decent uptick in cargo-container volumes through at least September.

During the first half of this year, containerized imports coming through the ports should rise by 5.6 percent, to 9.5 million 20-foot containers, compared to the first six months of 2016, according to the monthly “Global Port Tracker” report, issued by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Regardless of whether the sales come in their stores or through their websites, retailers see that consumers are buying more this year, and they’re importing the goods needed to meet the demand,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, a trade group based in Washington, D.C. “With unemployment at its lowest level in a decade and the economy adding jobs, retailers expect shoppers to continue to increase their spending.”

In March, cargo-container volumes of imports shot up 15.8 percent from a year ago when the Chinese Lunar New Year last year came a week later than this year, idling factories across that Asian country. Cargo volumes in April are estimated to see an 8.3 percent increase over last year while May is forecast to rise 2.6 percent over 2016.
June cargo volumes should inch up 3.3 percent, and July will follow with a 3.1 percent nudge. August is expected to see a modest 1.6 percent uptick and September cargo-container import volumes are expected to rise 3.6 percent as retailers bring in more goods for the holidays.
For all of 2016, cargo-container imports totaled 18.8 million 20-foot containers, up 3.1 percent from 2015.

At the Port of Los Angeles, cargo-container imports were up nearly 10 percent of this year while at the neighboring Port of Long Beach, cargo-container imports this year rose 5.6 percent.

The National Retail Federation is expecting a healthy year for retail sales. It predicts that—excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants—sales for 2017 will grow between 3.7 percent and 4.2 percent over 2016, driven by job and income growth coupled with low debt.

“In the United States, the economy continues to slowly grow,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Gross domestic product was lower than expected in the first quarter, but unemployment has dropped to levels not seen since before the Great Recession, and, best of all, labor employment has increased dramatically. Our view, therefore, remains unchanged. There is nothing to worry about in the first half of the year, and growth is expected to continue in the second half even if it comes at a slower rate.”