US Retailers Expect Slower Import Growth In 2018

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US import growth will decelerate in 2018 after an impressive 6.4% jump in 2017, with the second half of the new year expected to be weaker than the first half, according to the latest Global Port Tracker, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said.

January imports will slip 0.5% compared with a year prior, before rocketing 11.6% year over year in February, according to the report produced by Hackett Associates on behalf on the NRF. Global Port Tracker forecasts imports will fall 2% in March compared with the same period in 2017.

However, the projections for February and March contain a qualifier: they are skewed, due to a shift in the Asian factories' close dates in 2018 for the Lunar New Year, the study said. Regarding April 2018, imports are projected to rise 3.6% compared with April 2017, the study shows. However, despite the projected 2018 growth slowdown, the federation said "recession is not on the horizon."

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Further, the Global Port Tracker ticked up its 2017 import volume forecast to a record 20 million TEU – a 6.4% increase from 2016. That is up slightly from the 6.3% 2017 increase forecast earlier. In 2016, US ports imported 18.8 million TEUs, which was also a record but up only 3.1% from 2015, according to the tracker.

"Retailers are doing last minute restocking as consumers head toward the finish line of the shopping season," NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in a release. Gold added, however, that "The majority of holiday merchandise is already in the country and ports are beginning to quiet down."

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The volume of cargo imported into United States ports through October – about 19 million loaded TEU – is up 5.5% compared with the same period in 2016, according to PIERS, a sister product of JOC.com. The volume for October, about 2 million loaded TEUs, was 6.3% above that month in 2016, and the September volume of 1.92 million was also 6.3% above the same month in 2016, PIERS figures show.

Imports this past January were relatively strong – 5.2% above the 2016 figure, according to PIERS – because factories in Asia fast-forwarded production ahead of the Chinese New Year, which was January 28. Many factories in Asia close for a week or two for the celebrations. The February figure, however, was 4.1% below the figure for February 2016, PIERS figures show.

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