NRF sees record-high imports ahead of holidays

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Store shelves are replenished as the economy emerges from lockdowns and shoppers get a jump on the holidays.

NEW YORK – Retailers replenishing shelves and stocking up ahead of the year-end holidays helped push imports to an all-time high, according to the National Retail Federation.

The trade group on October 9 released its latest Global Port Tracker, which measures import cargo volumes at the nation’s major seaports. The report is released monthly by the NRF and Hackett Associates LLC.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.1 million TEUs (one TEU is one 20-footlong cargo container or its equivalent) in August, a volume representing an increase of 9.7% from July and an 8% gain from the same month a year earlier

It was the highest number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, beating 2.04 million TEU seen in October 2018 ahead of a scheduled tariff increase.

“After staying at home this spring, consumers are buying again and retail supply chains are working overtime to keep up with demand,” says Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF.

Holiday-related restocking began earlier than usual this year because retailers anticipate that consumers will be shopping early to avoid crowds and shipping delays.

“Some holiday merchandise that normally wouldn’t arrive until Halloween is already here,” Gold says.

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/ Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

“The U.S. economy is beating forecasts with consumption up and imports setting new records,” according to Ben Hackett, founder of Alexandria, Va.-based Hackett Associates. “Retail sales are a big part of consumer spending, so one would expect to see an increase when the economy improves and consumers are confident. But less than six months after the biggest decreases on record this spring, retail sales have bounced back to pre-crisis levels.”

China’s exports to the United States are showing a surprising resilience in the face of U.S. tariffs, The Wall Street Journal reported October 9, citing U.S. Census data.

Chinese shipments of virus-related goods to the United States have helped offset big declines in many export categories due to U.S. tariffs and the pandemic-related downturn. The Journal reported that the trade pact signed by U.S. and China in January left in place tariffs on about three-quarters of Chinese exports to the United States.

U.S. imports of clothing from China declined 46%, according to the Census data. Footwear imports fell 40%, while furniture imports were down 26% and toy imports were off by 20% from 2019 levels. Punitive tariffs targeted most wares in these categories, though there are exemptions.

Pandemic-related demand has been an important factor in the increased exports from China, particularly personal-protective equipment and personal-technology gear like laptops that people need to work from home, according to the Journal. As a result, China’s total exports to the United States were down only 3.6% through the first eight months of 2020.



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