Retail imports based on cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to decline year-over-year for the next few months but the first half of the year should still amount to a 4.5% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Retailers are carefully managing their inventories but still need to stock up on seasonal goods for spring and summer,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Comparisons with last year are difficult because of the surge of cargo after problems at West Coast ports ended, but we think consumers will continue to increase their spending this year and retailers will be ready.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. With most holiday merchandise already in the country by that point, volume was down 3.4% from November and 0.8% from the year before. That brought 2015 to a total of 18.2 million TEU, up 5.3% from 2014. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
January was up an estimated 18.3% over 2015 at 1.46 million TEU, but the percentage was skewed unusually high because of weak volume seen last year just before agreement on a contract with West Coast dockworkers ended months of congestion. February is forecast at 1.39 million TEU, up 16.2%, also skewed by the congestion.
Gold said that while Gulf and East Coast ports saw increased traffic in 2015 due to labor issues at West Coast ports, the volume from merchant shippers has been returning to major ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, the most natural destination for importers from Asia.
“2015 was a bit of an anomaly, with the labor issues and slowdowns,” he said. “A lot of NRF members shifted cargo east or to the gulf or Canada to make sure it got in on time. There was an especially huge increase in New York and New Jersey, with volume increases in the double digits. But as the labor issues were resolved, a lot of volume has shifted back west again.”
The monthly Global Port Tracker 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.