Port Traffic Winds Down Following Holiday Season

The nation’s major ports are expected to see a slowdown in container traffic following the holiday season, the National Retail Federation said on Friday, citing data from its monthly Global Port Tracker.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.48 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in November, 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 5% from October but up 6% from the year before. December was estimated at 1.44 million TEU, the same as 2014. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

“This is the time of year when the retail supply chain catches its breath before the next big rush begins,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are still tallying the bottom line of the holiday season, but they’re also making plans for the spring and summer.”

Preliminary numbers for 2015 show total imports at 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4% from 2014.

January is forecast at 1.47 million TEU, up 18.9% from weak volume seen a year ago just before agreement on a contract with West Coast dockworkers ended months of congestion. February is forecast at 1.41 million TEU, up 17.5%, also skewed by the congestion. March is forecast at 1.34 million TEU, down 22.4% from high levels seen when a flood of backlogged cargo followed the contract agreement.

Patterns are expected to return to normal in April, which is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, down 1.8% from last year. May is forecast at 1.55 million TEU, down 3.5% from last year.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said inventory levels remain high, partly because of warm weather that reduced demand for winter clothing.

“We continue to remain concerned about the high inventory-to-sales ratio,” Hackett said. “Enough time has passed since the disruption on the West Coast that we can no longer look to that for justification of the high level.”