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Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 2.6 percent in October over the same month last year and should reach its highest level of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
“After a summer of trying to compare apples to oranges, retail cargo is back to normal,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “October is the historic peak of the shipping cycle each year, and retailers are bringing merchandise into the country on their usual schedule and at normal levels again instead of being forced to move cargo early.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That number, which was the same for July, was down 7 percent from August 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
The August figures followed year-over-year declines of 5 percent in June and 4 percent in July, but the statistics were skewed because of high-than-normal numbers in 2010 when fears of shortages in shipping capacity caused many retailers to bring holiday merchandise into the country earlier than usual, according to the NRF.
Global Port Tracker counts only the number of cargo containers imported, not the value of their contents, so cargo volume does not directly correlate with retail sales. Actual retail sales were up during the summer, and NRF is forecasting 2.8 percent growth in holiday sales this November and December over last year, for a total of $465.6 billion.
Year-over-year cargo growth resumed but was weak in September, which was estimated at 1.37 million TEU, up 2.7 percent from last year. October is forecast at 1.39 million TEU, up 2.6 percent from last year, and is expected to regain its historical position as the busiest month of the year after last year’s usual patterns shifted the peak to August.
The total for 2011 is forecast at 15 million TEU, up 1.8 percent from 2010. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16 percent increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett was optimistic despite mixed economic data. “General economic indicators are giving us a mixed set of signals,” Hackett said. “…We are of the opinion that the probability for economic growth is higher than the probability of recession.”
Global Port Tracker 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. The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker