Import cargo volumes at the nation’s major retail container ports should see a small-but-significant increase this month as merchants stock up for the back-to-school season, then see a larger wave in late summer and fall for the holiday shopping season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
“Back-to-school and the holidays are the two biggest shopping seasons of the year for retailers and these numbers reflect that,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “After a year of difficult comparisons in the wake of the West Coast ports slowdown, we’re finally starting to see normal trends. Some numbers are still down from last year, but the pattern of building up toward the big seasons has returned.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.63 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 12.8% from April and 1.1% from May 2015. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
June was estimated at 1.56 million TEUs, down 0.5% from the same month last year. July is forecast at 1.64 million TEUs, up 1.4% from last year; August at 1.65 million TEUs, down 2%; September at 1.58 million TEUs, down 2.6%; October at 1.62 million TEUs, up 4.4%, and November at 1.52 million TEUs, up 2.8%. Even though volume will be lower than the same month last year, August is expected to be the peak shipping month of the year.
The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.99 million TEUs, up 1.5% from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEUs, up 5.4% from 2014.
“Trade is holding on to a small margin of growth, but this growth comes in the face of some adverse statistics as well as positive ones,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “The good news is that retail sales have remained positive as the consumer continues to cautiously spend. The hope is that this spending will continue.”
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.