Import cargo volumes at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to decline year-over-year for the next few months but the first half of the year should still amount to a 4.5% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
“Retailers are carefully managing their inventories but still need to stock up on seasonal goods for spring and summer,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Comparisons with last year are difficult because of the surge of cargo after problems at West Coast ports ended, but we think consumers will continue to increase their spending this year and retailers will be ready.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in December 2015, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. With most holiday merchandise already in the country by that point, volume was down 3.4% from November and 0.8% from the year before. That brought 2015 to a total of 18.2 million TEUs, up 5.3% from 2014. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
January was up an estimated 18.3% over 2015 at 1.46 million TEUs, but the percentage was skewed unusually high because of weak volumes seen last year just before agreement on a contract with West Coast dockworkers ended months of congestion. February is forecast at 1.39 million TEUs, up 16.2%, also skewed by the congestion. March is forecast at 1.35 million TEUs, down 22.4% from high levels seen when a flood of backlogged cargo followed the contract agreement. Patterns are expected to return closer to normal in April, which is forecast at 1.49 million TEUs, down 1.2% from last year. May is forecast at 1.57 million TEUs, down 2.6%, and June at 1.55 million TEUs, down 1.2%. The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.8 million TEUs, up 4.5% over 2015.
With the global economy still struggling, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett says government action in key nations could play a significant role in how 2016 plays out. “Governments around the globe need to support economic policy that is pro-growth and avoid actions that get in the way of the business community,” he says. “This is not the time, for example, for the U.S. Federal Reserve or other central banks to increase interest rates. What all the economies of the world need is stimulus to encourage consumer spending and to increase business expansion.”
Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.