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US imports set new monthly record as shippers rush to beat tariffs


US IMPORTS through its major ports have set another record this year, reaching two million containers in October for the first time as retailers continued to bring merchandise into the country ahead of a now-postponed tariff increase on goods from China, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker.

US ports covered by Global Port Tracker report, commissioned by the National Retail Federation, handled 2.04 million TEU in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available - up nine per cent from September and 13.6 per cent year on year.

The October number was the highest for a single month since Global Port Tracker began counting cargo in 2000, topping the previous record of 1.9 million TEU set in July, which in turn had beat a record of 1.83 million TEU set in August 2017.

November was estimated at 2.01 million TEU, a 14 per cent year-over-year increase that would have been a new record if not for the October number. December - normally a slow month with holiday merchandise already on the shelves - is forecast at 1.83 million TEU, up 6.1 per cent year on year. Those numbers would bring 2018 to a total of 21.8 million TEU, an increase of 6.5 per cent over last year's record 20.5 million TEU.

Both year-on-year growth and total volume are expected to slow in January, when 10 per cent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products that took effect in September had been scheduled to increase to 25 per cent.

US President Donald Trump announced last weekend after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the increase - and a threat to impose tariffs on all Chinese products - would be put on hold while the two countries conduct 90 days of negotiations. Official action to delay the tariff increase has yet to be announced, however.January 2019 is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, down 2.1 per cent from January 2018; February at 1.67 million TEU, down one per cent year on year; March at 1.57 million TEU, up 1.7 per cent, and April at 1.7 million TEU, up 3.7 per cent.

"We see a significant slowdown in import growth in 2019 as the market adjusts to higher prices due to the Trump tariffs and the impact on consumer and industry confidence going forward," Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.

"We project that imports at our monitored ports will have grown significantly in 2018 but that there will be no import growth in the first half of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018."

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the US ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville and Houston.

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