Spring forecast to bring double-digit US import gains

Spring forecast to bring double-digit US import gains

Spring is expected to bring more containers to US shores.

US ports this spring will handle double-digit increases in containerized imports thanks to strong consumer demand and an economy that shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, according to Global Port Tracker.

Imports in January increased 12.5 percent compared with January 2016 as factories in Asia moved up production before closing for the annual Chinese New Year celebration, according to the monthly report published by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates. Carriers are benefiting from favorable trade conditions, with freight rates on the spot market remaining higher than during the same period last year.

February numbers are not complete, but the publication projects only a 4.2 percent year-over-year increase in imports owing to the two-week lull in production. March and April should be quite strong, though, with imports in March projected to increase 10.6 percent and April imports projected to increase 10.1 percent year-over-year. Imports should then return to more average levels, increasing 2.9 percent in May, 5.5 percent in June, and 5.2 percent in July compared with the same months last year, according to Global Port Tracker.

Imports in the first half of 2017 are projected to increase 7.4 percent from the same period last year, although they could grow more slowly in the second half of the year. That aligns with the 2017 forecast by IHS Markit chief economist Mario Moreno who projects 6 percent growth in containerized imports for the year.

“Consumers are spending more freely and retailers are stocking up for the spring and summer seasons,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the NRF. Job and income growth, coupled with low debt, will drive 2017 retail sales up 3.7 to 4.2 percent, the NRF stated.

The outlook for the second half of 2017 is still cloudy owing to uncertainties surrounding a proposed “border adjustment” tax, the new administration’s decision to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement. These uncertainties could eventually discourage trade, but in the meantime the opposite is happening. “Trade is continuing to grow despite these developments in Washington,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bill.mongelluzzo@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.