NRF: Import Cargo Volume Remains Soft

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be mostly down through the summer but should see an uptick just before the winter holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“The unusual patterns seen last year in the aftermath of the West Coast ports slowdown are continuing to make valid year-over-year comparisons difficult,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are balancing imports with existing inventories but consumers can expect to see plenty of merchandise on the shelves for both back-to-school and the holidays.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.44 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 9.1% from March but down 4.6% in April 2015. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

May was estimated at 1.54 million TEU, down 4.2% from the same month last year. June is forecast to also be 1.54 million TEU, down 1.9% from last year; July at 1.62 million TEU, up 0.2%; August at 1.63 million TEU, down 3%; September at 1.57 million TEU, down 3.5%, and October at 1.61 million TEU, up 3.4%.

The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.9 million TEU, up 0.3% from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4% from 2014.

“Our port models are projecting weak imports in volume terms, not to be confused with the dollar value,” said Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates founder. “Inventories remain very high, pointing to an overstocked situation that will depress the volume of imports in the coming peak season. Unless inventories drop through further increased consumer spending, import growth will remain sparse.”