• Total imports at major US retail container ports were down 8.6% in March from the month before.
  • Imports are forecast to grow throughout the year, with April estimated at 1.73m TEU, up 6.4% year-over-year.
  • Retailers are stocking up amid the looming prospect of heavy tariffs on goods from China.
Total imports were down 8.6% in March from the month before

Total imports were down 8.6% in March from the month before

Imports at major US retail container ports are expected to grow steadily throughout the summer as retailers stock up amid the looming prospect of heavy tariffs on goods from China, new figures show.

According to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates, total imports were down 8.6% in March from the month before to 1.54m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) due to Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia. Imports, however, were down only 0.7% year-over-year.

Imports are forecast to increase, however, as the year progresses, with April imports estimated at 1.73m TEU, up 6.4% year-over-year, while May is forecast at 1.82m TEU, up 4.3% from last year. June also at 1.82m TEU, is forecast to be up 6.1%, and July at 1.9m TEU, up 5.5%. August is estimated at 1.92m TEU, up 4.6%, and September at 1.82m TEU, up 2.1%.

The numbers forecast for July and August would each set new records for the number of containers imported in a single month, beating the previous high of 1.83m TEU in August 2017.

"With proposed tariffs yet to be officially imposed, retailers are stocking up on merchandise that could soon cost considerably more," NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, Jonathan Gold, said. "If tariffs do take effect, there's no quick or easy way to switch where these products come from. American families will simply be stuck paying higher prices and hundreds of thousands of US jobs could be lost."

According to the report, total imports at major US retail container ports in 2017 were 20.5m TEU, topping 2016's record of 19.1m TEU by 7.6%.

2017 saw an all-time monthly high of 1.8m TEU in August and included five of only seven months when imports have hit 1.7m TEU or more.

For the first half of 2018, imports are expected to total 10.4m TEU, an increase of 5.8% over the first half of 2017.

"Despite the threats and risks to trade, we continue to see solid expansion and our models are projecting this to continue throughout the year," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett adds. "This is driven by a high level of confidence as the economy remains strong and unemployment is at its lowest level in nearly two decades."

Click here to see how apparel imports into the US fared during the month of March.