Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 3.3% this month over the same time last year as retailers make final preparations for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
“The holidays are almost here, and retailers are ready,” says Jonathn Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Merchants have been stocking up since summer, and there should be plenty on the shelves as consumers begin their holiday shopping.”
NRF is also forecasting 3.7% growth in holiday sales this year over 2014. While imports provide a barometer of retailers’ expectations, cargo volume does not directly correlate with sales figures because each container counts the same regardless of the value of its content.
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.68 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 3.9% from July and 10.4% from a year ago. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
September was estimated at 1.62 million TEUs, up 2.1% from 2014. October is forecast at 1.61 million TEUs, up 3.3% from last year; November at 1.49 million TEUs, up 7.2%, and December at 1.42 million TEUs, down 0.9%.
Those numbers would bring 2015 to a total of 18.3 million TEUs, up 5.7% from last year. The first half of 2015 totaled 8.9 million TEUs, up 6.5% over the same period last year.
January 2016 is forecast at 1.44 million TEUs, up 16.5% from weak numbers seen a year earlier just before West Coast dockworkers agreed on a new contract that ended a months-long labor dispute. February is forecast at 1.35 million TEUs, up 12.9%, also skewed by the labor dispute.
Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, says West Coast ports have largely recovered their share of cargo following the labor dispute, with the West Coast accounting for 59%, the East Coast 37% and the Gulf Coast 4%. But the inventory-to-sales ratio remains “stubbornly high” because of the influx of cargo that came through after the dispute ended.
“We would have thought that by now the aftermath of the disruption at the West Coast ports had worked its way through, which would help to reduce inventory,” he says. “This is not the case.”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, 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.