Supply Chain Managers Continue to Rely on West Coast Ports During Holiday Season

The Port of LA/Long Beach strike shifted some cargo into December but would not have a significant effect on net volume for the year.

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Even though the nation’s top ocean cargo gateways have been virtually shut down for several days this past month, retailers are reporting a slight increase in inbound throughput.

According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, the Port of LA/Long Beach strike shifted some cargo into December but would not have a significant effect on net volume for the year.

“Shippers are continuing to mitigate their risk by moving goods through multiple ports,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “At the same time, we don’t seen any significant trend from ocean carriage to air cargo.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.39 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 1 percent from September, but up 5.2 percent from October 2011.

November was estimated at 1.22 million TEUs, down 5.6 percent from last year. The downturn was due in part to the eight-day strike that closed most terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach beginning in the last few days of November, but also because November is a traditionally weak month after most holiday cargo has arrived.??

December is forecast at 1.27 million TEU, up 3.9 percent from last year, with January forecast at 1.31 million TEU, up 2 percent from January 2012; February at 1.15 million TEU, up 5.9 percent; March at 1.27 million TEU, up 2 percent, and April at 1.35 million TEU, up 3.2 percent.??August, September and October are the three busiest months of the year as retailers bring merchandise into the country for the holiday season, and volume for the three months combined was up 3.6 percent at 4.2 million TEU.

While cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales, NRF is forecasting that holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year.??The first half of 2012 totaled 7.7 million TEU, up 3 percent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2012 is expected to total 15.8 million TEU, up 2.5 percent from 2011.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the LA/Long Beach strike shifted some cargo into December but would not have a significant effect on net volume for the year. But retailers are closely monitoring the situation at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, where a contract extension expires December 29.??

“While the strike led to some diversion of cargo to Oakland and ports further afield, we believe much of the cargo destined for LA/Long Beach will simply arrive at the port later as vessels adjust their rotations,” Hackett said. “As we look ahead into the coming months of 2013, the main threat to cargo flows through the ports would be a strike on East Coast and Gulf Coast. There is little option for diversion.”??

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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