Import cargo volumes at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to be mostly down through the summer but should see a significant uptick just before the winter holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report produced by the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
“The unusual patterns seen last year in the aftermath of the West Coast ports slowdown are continuing to make valid year-over-year comparisons difficult,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are balancing imports with existing inventories but consumers can expect to see plenty of merchandise on the shelves for both back-to-school and the holidays.” Basically, then, it'll be business-as-usual at the ports this fall.
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.44 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 9.1% from March but down 4.6% in April 2015. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
May was estimated at 1.54 million TEUs, down 4.2% from the same month last year. June is forecast to also be 1.54 million TEUs, down 1.9% from last year; July at 1.62 million TEUs, up 0.2%; August at 1.63 million TEUs, down 3%; September at 1.57 million TEUs, down 3.5%, and October at 1.61 million TEUs, up 3.4%.
The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.9 million TEUs, up 0.3% from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEUs, up 5.4% from 2014.
“Our port models are projecting weak imports in volume terms, not to be confused with the dollar value,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Inventories remain very high, pointing to an overstocked situation that will depress the volume of imports in the coming peak season. Unless inventories drop through further increased consumer spending, import growth will remain sparse.”
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.