Imports at top U.S. container ports will lag last summer’s totals before posting year-over-year gains when the peak season for holiday imports kicks in this fall, according to a monthly forecast co-sponsored by the National Retail Federation.
The latest Global Port Tracker report by the NRF and Hackett Associates said this summer’s cargo growth statistics have been undercut by tough year-to-year comparisons with strong numbers last year, when many shippers booked holiday orders early to ensure space on ships.
By the Numbers: A 10-Year Profile of U.S. Containerized Imports
“Cargo numbers have been down this summer but that’s a reflection of last year’s unusual shipping patterns more than the economy,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.
“The economy continues to face challenges, but job growth has been steady and retailers have been adding jobs themselves as sales improve. Cargo figures for this fall clearly show that retailers are expecting a healthy holiday season.”
While cargo volume is expected to increase through this fall’s holiday shipping cycle, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said a number of key economic indicators are raising concerns about future cargo growth.
“Industrial production in China is weak, bulk commodity imports are declining and ports are beginning to report reduced export volumes,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “In the U.S., we have lower private consumption, lower government expenditure and lower indices like the purchasing managers’ index. This is cause for concern because it could lead to lower growth of trade volumes.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million 20-foot-equivalent units in June, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was down 2.6 percent from May and 5 percent from June 2010.
June’s volume broke an 18-month streak of year-over-year improvement dating to December 2009. The Port Tracker said declines continued in July, which was estimated at 1.3 million TEUs, down 5.7 percent from July 2010. August is forecast at 1.4 million TEU, a 1.6 percent decrease from a year ago.
Year-over-year increases are expected to resume in September, which is forecast at 1.48 million TEUs, up 10.4 percent; October is forecast at 1.46 million TEUs, up 8 percent; November at 1.31 million TEUs, up 6.2 percent; and December, 1.18 million TEUs, up 3 percent.
Global Port Tracker covers Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah and Houston.
Ports in the Global Port Tracker survey finished the first half of 2011 with 7.15 million TEUs, up 3.9 percent. The full-year forecast 15.28 million TEU, up 3.6 percent. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16 percent increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.