U.S. retail port imports set a monthly record in June with several more months of expected records this summer, possibly a sign that retailers are stocking up before tariffs on imported Chinese consumer products take effect, the National Retail Federation said in a monthly report.
In its Aug. 9 "Global Port Tracker" report, the industry group and maritime consulting firm Hackett Associates said 1.85 million twenty-foot-equivalent units, or TEU, of retail goods were imported in June, which tops the previous record of 1.83 million TEU set in August 2017.
A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
The NRF and Hackett also forecast 1.88 million TEU of retail imports for July, as well as 1.91 million TEU in August, both of which would be new monthly records. The July estimate is still subject to revision, the groups said.
The actual and predicted port shipping records come as the U.S. is embroiled in an ongoing tit-for-tat tariff spat with China, a nation that accounted for $505.5 billion worth of imports in the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Tariffs on most consumer products have yet to take effect but retailers appear to be getting prepared before that can happen," Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the NRF, said in a news release. "Much of that is to meet consumer demand as tax reform and a thriving economy drive retail sales, but part of it seems to be concern over what's to come."
The United States' ongoing trade conflict with China continues to evolve week-by-week, with the two sides now having imposed or threatened tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of goods.
On July 6, the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on $34 billion of imports from China, though most of the targeted products avoided the consumer sector.
A separate 25% tariff on another $16 billion of Chinese goods, however, is slated to go into effect Aug. 23, and that targets a number of consumer products, including remote controls, selfie sticks, e-cigarettes, fans and charging cables.
The Trump administration is also weighing a separate proposed 25% tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods, which would target a wide variety of imported consumer goods such as furniture, mattresses, handbags, appliances, hats, and computers. That proposed batch of tariffs, was originally set at 10%, but President Donald Trump instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to raise that tariff rate to 25%. The Trump administration is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the $200 billion batch Aug. 20-23.
Trump has also threatened further tariffs on yet another $200 billion tranche of Chinese goods should Beijing retaliate against the first $200 billion batch.
Retailers, producers and suppliers have all expressed widespread concern with tariffs imposed on goods imported from China, the top sourcing country for many companies, warning that the tariffs could drive up costs for both producers and consumers and could disrupt longstanding supply chains.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in the Aug. 9 news release that he anticipates retail port imports to take a dip heading into 2019 because of the trade spat with China as well as an expected economic slowdown.
The groups forecast November at 1.81 million TEU of retail imports, which would mark a 2.6% year-over-year rise, and December at 1.79 million TEU, a 4% rise over the same period.
The "Global Port Tracker" report covers 14 U.S. ports, including Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles on the West Coast, and Savannah, Ga.; Miami and New York/New Jersey on the East Coast.