Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase nearly 10 percent year-on-year in October as merchants wrap up the annual shipping cycle for holiday merchandise, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“NRF’s annual forecast says retailers should see solid growth during the holiday season this year and these cargo numbers back it up,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Increased imports show that retailers have gauged the market and expect increased sales.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.4 million TEUs in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 3.3 percent year-on-year and up 6.7 percent from July.
September was estimated at 1.5 million TEUs, up 8 percent from last year, and October is forecast at 1.45 million TEUs, up 9.9 percent. Volume for the three months combined is up 7 percent.
While cargo volume doesn’t correlate directly with sales, NRF forecasted last week that holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion. With most holiday merchandise already at least in distribution centers by the end of October, monthly cargo volume will drop off for the remainder of the year but will remain above 2011 levels, Port Tracker projects.
November is forecast at 1.3 million TEUs, up 2.4 percent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.3 million TEUs, up 4.6 percent. After the holidays, January 2013 is forecast to stay at 1.3 million TEUs, down 0.5 percent from January 2012, and February is forecast at 1.19 million TEUs, up 9 percent from a year earlier.
The first half of 2012 totaled 7.7 million TEUs, up 2.9 percent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2012 volume is expected to total 16 million TEUs, up 4.1 percent from 2011.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett noted some retailers brought cargo into the country early because of the threat of a strike when the labor contract covering East Coast and Gulf Coast longshoremen was set to expire Sept. 30. The strike was averted when labor and management agreed to continue talks through Dec. 31.
“Inventories are up, which could be due to lack of demand but it could also be due to pre-stocking in anticipation of the dock strike that didn’t come,” Hackett said. “Either way, it is within a narrow range of movement and it does not suggest that we are sliding into another recession.” - Eric Johnson