While negotiators prepare for talks on a new contract for West Coast dockworkers, import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports will increase 3.5 percent in May, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“We’re expecting a lot of cargo to move through the ports this summer and we want to make sure there aren’t any supply chain disruptions that would impact the cargo flow,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “We hope there won’t be any issues, but the sooner labor and management can agree on a new contract, the better it will be for everyone who relies on the West Coast ports.”
Representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are scheduled to begin negotiations next week on a new contract to replace the current agreement that expires June 30. NRF has urged both sides to avoid any disruptions that could affect the flow of back-to-school or holiday season merchandise.
West Coast ports handle more than two-thirds of U.S. retail container cargo each year, including the bulk of cargo from Asia. The last major shutdown there occurred in the fall of 2002, closing ports for 10 days and creating a weeks-long backlog to be cleared.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.3 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. The number was up 5.1 percent from February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, and up 14.5 percent from March 2013. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
April was estimated at 1.38 million TEU, up 6.1 percent from the same month last year. May is forecast at 1.44 million TEU, up 3.5 percent from last year; June at 1.43 million TEU, up 5.6 percent; July at 1.49 million TEU, up 3 percent; August at 1.5 million TEU, up 0.8 percent, and September at 1.44 million TEU, up 0.1 percent. The first half of the year is expected to total 8.2 million TEU, up 5.1 percent over last year.
The total for 2013 was 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3 percent from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU.
The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1 percent sales growth in 2014. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales but is a barometer of retailers’ expectations.
“Most economic fundamentals are pointing in the direction of continued, sustained recovery in consumer demand and import volumes,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “This is turning out to be the longest period of growth for some time now.”