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Retail Imports Building Toward Summer Levels

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports should see its traditional buildup toward the summer despite difficult comparisons with last year’s unusual patterns, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Comparisons are still complicated because of last year’s situation at the West Coast ports but should clear up in the second half of the year,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp/supply chain and customs policy. “Year-over-year numbers are skewed but on a monthly basis imports are building normally as the back-to-school season approaches.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.5 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in January, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.4% from December and 21.4% from unusually low figures in January 2015, the month before a new contract with dockworkers was signed to end a near-shutdown at West Coast ports. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

February was estimated at 1.4 million TEU, up 17.1% from the same month in 2015 and also skewed by last year’s congestion. March is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, down 22.2% from the flood of traffic seen as the backlog of cargo began to move through ports at this time last year. April is forecast at 1.49 million TEU, down 1.8% from last year; May at 1.56 million TEU, down 3.4%; June at 1.54 million TEU, down 1.6%; and July at 1.61 million TEU, down 0.4%.

The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.8 million TEU, down 0.2% from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4% from 2014.