Cautious optimism is the theme for holiday season imports in Port Tracker report

As was the case a month ago, the Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates is calling for annual import cargo volume gains at United States ports, as retailers gear up for the holiday season.

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As was the case a month ago, the Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates is calling for annual import cargo volume gains at United States ports, as retailers gear up for the holiday season.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

“The holidays are almost here, and retailers are ready,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Merchants have been stocking up since summer, and there should be plenty on the shelves as consumers begin their holiday shopping.”

The Port Tracker report said that August, the most recent month for which data is available, handled 1.68 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), which it said was up 3.9 percent compared to July and up 10.4 percent compared to August 2014

Port Tracker estimates September at 1.62 million TEU for a 2.1 percent annual gain, with October at 1.61 million TEU for a 3.3 percent annual increase. September, November and December are expected to come in at 1.49 million TEU (for a 7.2 percent annual increase), 1.42 million TEU (for a 0.9 percent annual decline).

Should these estimates hold, the report said that 2015 would finish with 18.3 million TEU, which would represent a 5.7 percent annual gain. For the first half of 2015, imports saw a 6.5 percent annual gain at 8.9 million TEU.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett wrote in the report that despite second quarter GDP coming in at 3.9 percent, that does not necessarily mean the economy is in a growth cycle, explaining that consumer demand is still cautious and shipping demand is lackluster at 5.9 percent for the full year.

Other factors cited by Hackett include the World Bank cutting forecasts for the Asia Pacific region for 2015 and 2016, due to risks posed from China’s economic slowdown and raising interest rates. And he also noted that the International Monetary Fund said in September that “slowing growth in China posed a threat to the global economy.

What’s more, he added that the inventory-to-sales ratio remains stubbornly high, which reflects how the West Coast port labor disruption from earlier this year has not yet been fully worked through and reduced inventory levels.  Also working against inventory reduction is lower personal consumption spending, with the rate slower compared to a year ago, he said. 

The high inventories and consumer caution are also being reflected in the ocean shipping sector, too, Hackett said in an interview.

“Carriers are laying up ships and stopping services in some cases,” he said. “It is happening more so than it was before” in an effort to match demand an increase very low freight rates, too.

Earlier this week, the NRF issued its holiday season sales forecast for the months of November and December. It is calling for 2015 holiday sales to see a 3.7 percent annual gain to $630.5 billion, which comfortably outpaces the ten-year average of 2.5 percent.

Hackett noted that even with consumer demand intact for the holidays it is down when compared to last year’s NRF holiday sales forecast of 4.1 percent.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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