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Feb Retail Imports To Drop More Due To Longer Coronavirus Shutdowns: NRF

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Major U.S. retail container ports are likely to report sharper-than-usual drop in imports in the month of February due to longer Lunar New Year shutdowns at factories in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a report by the National Retail Federation or NRF.

The Global Port Tracker report, released by the world's largest retail trade association along with Hackett Associates, indicates that U.S. ports are now expected to handle 1.41 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units or TEU in February, down 12.9 percent from the previous year. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Global Port Tracker had forecast February at 1.54 million TEU. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold called the situation unusual in the month, which is generally a slow month for imports due to Lunar New Year and the lull between retailers' holiday season and summer.

In January 2020, the imports were expected at 1.82 million TEU, down 3.8 percent from January 2019. March is now expected to be at 1.46 million TEU, down 9.5 percent year-over-year, while the estimate before the outbreak was 1.7 million TEU.

Gold said. "Many Chinese factories have already stayed closed longer than usual, and we don't know how soon they will reopen. U.S. retailers were already beginning to shift some sourcing to other countries because of the trade war, but if shutdowns continue, we could see an impact on supply chains."

In 2019, the total imports were 21.6 million TEU, a 0.8 percent decrease from 2018 amid the ongoing trade war.

Meanwhile, the Tracker projects growth in imports in the month of April, May and June, even though the duration of the coronavirus impact remains unknown.

According to Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, projecting container volume for the next year has been challenging with the outbreak. "It's questionable how soon manufacturing will return to normal, and following the extension of the Lunar New Year break all eyes are on what further decisions China will make to control the outbreak," he added.

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