The government shutdown had little effect on import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports in October. Volume grew 6.5 percent over the same month last year. Year-over-year increases are expected to continue for the remainder of the year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Retailers place their orders for merchandise months ahead of time, so cargo arriving at the ports in October and for most of the rest of the year was ordered long before anybody ever heard of a shutdown,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “The question at this point isn’t how much merchandise arrived but how much consumers bought, and how they are going to react as economic talks continue in Washington. Lawmakers need to take steps that build confidence, not continue the uncertainty.”
While some government workers involved with clearing cargo were furloughed during the 16-day shutdown, U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors remained on the job and no major disruptions of cargo handling were reported.
The cargo numbers come as NRF is predicting that this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9 percent over last year to a total of $602.1 billion. Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them.
August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.35 million cargo containers handled during those months combined represent a 4.3 percent increase over last year and account for 26.8 percent of all retail imports for the entire year.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 3.6 percent from August but up 2 percent from September 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
October was estimated at 1.43 million TEU, unchanged from September but up 6.5 percent from last year. November is forecast at 1.33 million TEU, up 3.3 percent from last year; and December at 1.31 million TEU, up 1.8 percent. January 2014 is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, up 3 percent from January 2013; February at 1.18 million TEU, down 7.5 percent from last year; and March at 1.33 million TEU, up 17 percent.
The total for 2013 is forecast at 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3 percent from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU. The first six months of 2013 totaled 7.8 million TEU, up 1.2 percent from the first half of 2012.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the 2.3 percent increase for the year is down from the previously forecast 2.7 percent partly due to the shutdown but also because of a relatively high inventory-to-sales ratio.
“The GDP forecast for the remainder of this year is not expected to be seriously impacted by the government shutdown and growth going forward should be back to its expansionary path,” Hackett said. “The first half of 2014 will bring solid growth back.”