Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to be up 15% in June compared with the same month a year ago, and double-digit increases should continue into the fall as the U.S. economy recovers, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
"Cargo import numbers are up but retailers are looking closely at other economic indicators to make sure they are sourcing the appropriate amount of merchandise based on consumer demand," says Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and Customs policy. "Job creation remains a key factor that's going to affect consumer spending and retail sales. "
U.S. ports handled 1.15 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 7% from March and up 16% from April 2009. It was also the fifth month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year monthly declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
May was estimated at 1.16 million TEUs, a 12% increase over last year as spring products hit store shelves and summer merchandise followed close behind. June is forecast to remain at 1.16 million TEUs but the figure would be up 15% from last year. July is forecast at 1.23 million TEUs, up 11% from last year; August at 1.27 million TEUs, up 10%; September at 1.31 million TEUs, up 15%; and October—traditionally the busiest month of the year—at 1.34 million TEUs, up 12%. The strong year-over-year increases are partly due to easy comparisons against unusually low numbers last year.
The first half of 2010 is expected to total 6.6 million TEUs, up 12% from the same period last year. Imports for 2009 totaled 12.7 million TEUs, down 17% from 2008’s 15.2 million TEUs and the lowest since the 12.5 million TEUs reported in 2003.
"Virtually all of the ocean carriers now seem to accept that there will not be a relapse into a second-dip recession nor an end to the growth, " says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, noting that many shipping companies have recently restored services and capacity that had been cut back. "Not a day goes by without a new announcement of additional services or re-instatement of services that had been withdrawn."
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.