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First Half Imports Expected To Grow 4.5%

Import 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,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy with the NRF. “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 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. March is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, down 22.4% from high levels seen when a flood of backlogged cargo followed the contract agreement.

Patterns are expected to return closer to normal in April, which is forecast at 1.49 million TEU, down 1.2% from last year. May is forecast at 1.57 million TEU, down 2.6%, and June at 1.55 million TEU, down 1.2%. The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.8 million TEU, up 4.5% over 2015.