August and the entire year of 2017 are expected to set new retail container port import records, the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates said Aug. 9.
The groups said in their monthly "Global Port Tracker" report that August is on track to see 1.75 million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEU — a 20-foot-long container or equivalent — which would mark a monthly volume record since they began tracking imports in 2000. The previous record was 1.73 million TEU set in March 2015.
Imports for the full year at the 13 ports covered by the report are also projected to reach 19.7 million TEU, which would mark a new yearly import record.
Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a news release that the increased import figures are driven primarily by continued retail sales growth, especially as the U.S. enters into its back-to-school shopping season.
"Retailers are selling more and that means they need to import more," Gold said. "These latest numbers are a good sign of what retailers expect in terms of consumer demand over the next few months."
NRF and Hackett also predicted that August could be a monthly record in its July report, but made several forecast adjustments in the new report.
NRF projected that September could see 1.67 million TEU of imports at retail ports, while October is expected to see 1.72 million TEU. Coupled with a projected 1.62 million TEU in November and 1.59 million TEU in December, 2017 is on pace to break the 18.8 million TEU record set in 2016.
The NRF noted that the first six months of 2017 totaled 9.7 million TEU, an increase of 7.4% from the first half of 2016.
In the Aug. 9 report, NRF also reported that the 13 ports covered by "Global Port Tracker" received 1.69 TEU in June, which marked a 2% decrease from May but a 7.5% year-over-year increase.
The "Global Port Tracker" follows an Aug. 1 report from Forrester Research, which estimated that U.S. retail sales are projected to reach $3.56 trillion in 2017, a 3.8% increase from 2016.
NRF has also forecast that 2017 retail sales will increase between 3.7% and 4.2% from 2016, which it attributed to job and income growth as well as low debt.
The monthly report covers ports on the East, West and Gulf Coasts, including the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland and New York/New Jersey.