Imports at the nation’s largest container ports are expected to remain flat through July before picking up when the annual peak season for holiday shipments begins later this summer, the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said in their monthly Global Port Tracker report.
“With rising gas prices and challenges in the labor and housing markets, consumer spending has slowed and retailers have adjusted their inventory levels accordingly,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “We are confident long-term consumer demand will grow, and that imports will pick up significantly in the fall.”
The ports handled 1.22 million 20-foot-equivalent units in April, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 12 percent from the previous month and 7 percent year-to-year. It was the 17th straight month of year-to-year growth after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of declines.
May volume was estimated at 1.27 million TEUs, only 0.3 percent over May 2010. June is forecast at 1.33 million TEUs, a 1 percent increase from June 2010, and July at 1.39 million TEUs, up 0.5 percent.
The NRF and Hackett expect growth to pick up in August at 1.47 million TEUs, up 3 percent, followed by sharper increases in September at 1.49 million TEUs, up 12 percent; and October at 1.54 million TEUs, up 19 percent. August through October are traditionally the busiest months of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season. They expect import volume in the first half of 2011 to total 7.2 million TEUs, up 5 percent from the first half of 2010.
Global Port Tracker forecasts only six months beyond actual numbers, so a forecast for the full year is not yet available. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEUs, a 16 percent increase over 2009.
“2011 is turning out to be an uncertain year for shipping,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “The good news for the coming few months is that inventories are too low, which will generate shipping demand as the supply chain moves to restock, albeit cautiously.”
Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York-New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf.
Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @josephbonney.