“Based on early numbers, 2014 looks like it should be off to a good start,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy in commenting on the monthly Global Port Tracker report released last week by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. Estimates show 2013 up 2.8 percent over 2012 and the report states import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports should grow 4.8 percent in January over the same month last year.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.37 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.3 percent from October as imports for the holiday season wound down but up 6.5 percent from November 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
December was estimated at 1.35 million TEU, up 5 percent from 2012. If that estimate holds true once final numbers become available, 2013 will have totaled 16.3 million TEU, up 2.8 percent over 2012’s 15.8 billion TEU. That compares with 3.4 percent growth in 2012 over 2011.
The cargo numbers come as retailers are waiting to see final figures for 2013 holiday season sales, which NRF predicted would grow 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. Imports during August, September and October, the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country, totaled 4.35 million TEU, up 4.3 percent increase over 2012. Cargo figures do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside, but are an indicator of retailers’ sales expectations.
January 2014 is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, up 4.8 percent from January 2013; February at 1.18 million TEU, down 7.5 percent from last year; March at 1.32 million TEU, up 15.9 percent; April at 1.4 million TEU, up 7.7 percent; and May at 1.46 million TEU, up 4.6 percent.
“The new year looks to be stronger than the outgoing one, with better-than-expected GDP figures, lower unemployment rates and continued low inflation,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Expectations of a stronger dollar will also help to increase consumer confidence as import prices continue to fall.”