Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports should continue to see strong increases throughout the spring and summer as the nation’s economy improves, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Consumers are spending more, and these import numbers show that retailers expect that to continue for a significant period,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “This is a clear sign that the economy has long-term momentum regardless of month-to-month fluctuations. Whether it’s merchandise for store shelves or parts for U.S. factories, imports play a vital role in American prosperity.”

Ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in February. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent. That was a decrease of 14.3% from January as many Asian factories shut down for the Lunar New Year, and down 7% from the same month a year ago. Coming after the winter holidays and before retailers stock up for summer, February is historically the slowest month of the year for imports. March was estimated at 1.61 million TEU, up 21.5% from unusually low numbers last year, when Lunar New Year came a week later than this year. April is forecast at 1.59 million TEU, up 10.3% from last year; May at 1.68 million TEU, up 3.5%; June at 1.66 million TEU, up 5.3%; July at 1.71 million TEU, up 5.1%, and August at 1.74 million TEU, up 1.6%.

Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates founder, said, “Our view that imports will continue to be stable despite the uncertainties of the new administration’s trade policies remains unchanged. Despite pre-election promises, there has been little real change in trade policy so far and little change is expected for the greater part of the year.”

The first half of 2017 is expected to total 9.6 million TEU, up 7.3% from the first half of 2016. Cargo volume for 2016 totaled 18.8 million TEU, up 3.1% from 2015, which had grown 5.4% from 2014. NRF has forecast that 2017 retail sales–excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants–will increase between 3.7-4.2% over 2016, driven by job and income growth coupled with low debt. 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.

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