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Import Cargo and Spending Growth Both Slowing

Shipping trend reflects retailers’ stocking up earlier this year, NRF finds

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PHOTOGRAPHY: SHansche/iStock.com

Import cargo volume at major U.S. container ports has already hit its expected peak for the year and should gradually slow headed into the holiday season, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Cargo volumes will still be strong the rest of the year, but not as high as we expected a month ago,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Retailers stocked up early this year as a safeguard against supply chain labor issues and are well-situated to meet consumer demand. Shoppers are spending more than they did last year, but the rate of growth we’ve seen the past couple of years has slowed and retailers are working to strike the right balance of supply and demand.”

With consumers worried over  inflation and high interest rates – particularly for groceries, automobiles and mortgages – discretionary spending growth is slowing and retail cargo imports are expected to decline, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. Consumer spending grew 1.8 percent year over year in the second quarter rather than the 2.3 percent originally estimated, and NRF said last month that retail sales for the year could come in at the low end of its forecast of 4%-6% year-over-year growth.

“We are already seeing this in the operational decisions carriers are making,” Hackett said. “They have slowed down their ships in an attempt to cut capacity without having to take vessels out of service as new, larger ones ordered when demand was higher are delivered. Even so, ships are not sailing fully loaded, and freight rates are declining as a result. That’s a further indication that no cargo growth from current levels is expected on the near-term horizon. Perhaps 2024 will be better.”

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