2018 promises to be a good year for U.S. container ports building on solid market fundamentals like higher employment and improved confidence coupled with the pro-growth tax reform benefits, according to the Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy of the U.S. National Retail Federation Jonathan Gold.

Imports at the major U.S. retail container ports are expected to grow a healthy 4.9 percent during the first half of 2018 compared with the same period a year earlier, NRF’s Global Port Tracker report shows.

“We’re forecasting significant sales growth this year and that means retailers will have to import more merchandise to meet consumer demand,”Gold said.

The import projection comes a day after NRF forecast that 2018 retail sales will grow between 3.8 and 4.4 percent over 2017’s USD 3.53 trillion.

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.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.72 million TEU in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. With most holiday merchandise already in the country by then, the number was down 2.1 percent from November but up 8.4 percent year-over-year.

The total for 2017 was 20.5 million TEU, topping 2016’s record 19.1 million TEU by 7.6 percent.

January was estimated at 1.77 million TEU, up 4.1 percent year-over-year. February is forecast at 1.67 million TEU, up 14.8 percent from last year; March at 1.54 million TEU, down 1.1 percent; April at 1.71 million TEU, up 4.8 percent; May at 1.8 million TEU, up 2.8 percent, and June also at 1.8 million TEU, up 4.9 percent.

Those numbers would bring the first half of 2018 to a total of 10.3 million TEU, an increase of 4.9 percent over the first half of 2017.

All of the numbers are slightly higher than reported in the previous GPT because Florida’s Port of Jacksonville has been added to the report beginning this month to reflect its growing importance as a container port used by retailers.

“It’s clear that 2017 turned out to be a remarkable year in terms of import container volume,Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.

“That level of growth is difficult to sustain, however,  our models suggest that 2018 will continue to expand but only at about half that pace despite strong fundamentals that indicate a healthy economy and continued growth in consumer spending.”

Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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