Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be at some of its highest levels ever during the next few months despite a falloff from last year’s record-setting numbers, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Retailers are importing less merchandise than last year but these are still some of the highest numbers we’ve ever seen,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Carefully managing imports will balance out high inventory levels but consumers can still expect to see a deep and broad selection of products.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 14.2% from February, partly because of a carryover from Chinese New Year factory closings. It was also down 23.7% from the all-time record high set in March 2015 after a new contract with dockworkers ended a near-shutdown at West Coast ports and brought a flood of backlogged cargo through the ports. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
April was estimated at 1.5 million TEU, down 0.8% from the same month last year, when 2015’s unusual pattern of cargo volumes started to stabilize. May is forecast at 1.57 million TEU, down 2.7% from last year; June at 1.56 million TEU, down 0.8%; July at 1.61 million TEU, down 0.6%; August at 1.62 million TEU, down 3.7%; and September at 1.56 million TEU, down 3.9%.
The 1.73 million TEU seen in March 2015 broke a previous record of 1.59 million TEU set in September 2014, and was followed by numbers as high as 1.68 million TEU before last year’s unusual patterns settled down. But this year’s forecast peak of 1.62 million TEU in August would still be among the six highest months on record.
The first half of 2016 is expected to total 9 million TEU, up 1.4% from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4% from 2014.
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said the decreased imports reflect both high inventory levels and slow growth in consumer spending in recent months.
“Consumer spending is still growing but not as fast as in the past,” he said. “A more cautious approach is being taken.”