US Retail Sales Bounce Back; Imports At Record High

Retail sales in the U.S. bounced back to the pre-pandemic levels, and retailers have stocked up merchandise well ahead of the crucial holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation or NRF and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.

“After staying at home this spring, consumers are buying again and retail supply chains are working overtime to keep up with demand,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold.

Retailers know many consumers will be shopping early this year to avoid crowds and shipping delays. NRF is also encouraging consumers to shop safe and shop early amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This has also seen imports reach an all-time high this summer as the U.S. economy is nearly fully reopened after coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

According to the report, its projected import figures for the July-October “peak season” could make this the busiest peak season on record. Imports to the U.S. usually trail off in November and December after the bulk of holiday merchandise arrives in October.

U.S. container import volumes are expected to reach a record of 7.96 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units or TEU, during the July to October 2020, topping the previous record volumes of 7.7 million TEU in 2018 and 7.66 million TEU last year.

The U.S. ports surveyed in the report handled 2.1 million TEU in August, the latest month for which figures are available, the report said. This is the highest number of containers in a month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, beating 2.04 million TEU seen in October 2018.

While the August number is a 9.7 percent increase from July, it also marks an 8 percent growth year-over-year.

For September, container import volumes are now estimated to be 2.08 million TEU, an increase of 10.9 percent year-over-year. However, volumes are forecast to decline 1.1 percent year-over-year to 1.86 million TEU in October; 5.1 percent to 1.61 million TEU in November; and 11.2 percent to 1.53 million TEU in December.

While actual September numbers will not be known until next month, the figure is estimated to rise to be the second-highest month on record, beating the 2.04 million TEU record set in October 2018.

For the first half of 2020, import volumes totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.1 percent from last year. Meanwhile, imports during 2020 are projected to be the lowest in three years. Total import volumes for 2020 are now anticipated to decrease 4.9 percent from last year to 20.5 million TEU.

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