Import numbers show retailers restocking as holiday season hits final days

"All signs are that this has been a strong holiday season."

NRF Vice President Jonathan Gold

WASHINGTON – Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to increase 1.5 percent this month over the same time last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. The year, which included five of the seven busiest months for imports on record, should end with a healthy 6.4 percent increase over 2016.

“Retailers are doing last-minute restocking as consumers head toward the finish line of the shopping season, but the majority of holiday merchandise is already in the country and ports are beginning to quiet down,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “With tax cuts that will leave more money in shoppers’ pockets in the headlines and consumer confidence high, all signs are that this has been a strong holiday season.”

Gold added, however, that retailers’ ability to provide consumers with quality products at affordable prices could be threatened if the United States pulls out of the North American Free Trade Agreement or engages in other anti-trade policy that fails to recognize the increased employment and other contributions imports make to the nation’s economy.

“Despite constant threats from the administration regarding trade, especially free trade agreements, imports have been riding high,” Gold said. “Concerns continue about what will happen in 2018 and beyond.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.77 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 0.3 percent from September and up 5.9 percent year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

November was estimated at 1.64 million TEU, down 0.3 percent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.6 million TEU, up 1.5 percent.

The total for 2017 is expected to come to 20 million TEU, topping last year’s previous record of 18.8 million TEU by 6.4 percent. That compares with 2016’s 3.1 percent increase over 2015.

The year set an all-time monthly record of 1.8 million TEU in August, and included five of only seven months when imports have hit 1.7 million TEU or higher.

January 2018 is forecast at 1.67 million TEU, down 0.5 percent from January 2017; February at 1.6 million TEU, up 11.6 percent from last year; March at 1.5 million TEU, down 2 percent, and April at 1.66 million TEU, up 3.6 percent. The February and March percentages are skewed because of changes in when Asian factories close for Lunar New Year each year.

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.


Source: National Retail Federation/Hackett Associates Global Port Tracker Report 2017 figure is a forecast

“As we close out 2017, we feel very good about the events of the year,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We expect the coming six months to continue to grow, although at a reduced rate on a year-on-year basis. The second half of 2018 will be weaker than the first half, but recession is not on the horizon.”

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, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast. The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at or by calling (202) 783-7971. Subscription information for non-members can be found at

About NRF
NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.

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