This year’s peak season for containerized imports may have topped out in July as retailers shipped early to avoid delays, according to the Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“The traditional peak season may be melting away,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which produces the Port Tracker for the NRF.
The report said double-digit increases in June and July apparently were swollen by backlogs that developed earlier this year when carriers moved slowly to reactivate ships they idled during the recession.
By The Numbers: Europe-North America Westbound Container Trade.
“With many retailers appearing to bring merchandise in early to avoid any further bottlenecks, July is likely to be the peak shipping month for 2010 rather than the traditional rush of holiday season merchandise in October,” the report said.
The closely watched report on shipping activity now projects import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports will total 14.5 million containers for 2010, a 15 percent increase over last year’s recession-lowered numbers.
Through June, volume was estimated at 6.9 million 20-foot-equivalent units, up 17 percent from a year earlier. The growth rate is expected to slow later this year
July is expected to be the high-water mark for imports, with volume estimated at 1.38 million TEUs, a 25 percent increase from last year.
The ports handled 1.32 million TEUs in May, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 4 percent from May and 30 percent from June 2009. It was the seventh month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.
August volume is forecast at 1.32 million TEUs, up 14 percent from last year; September at 1.32 million TEUs, up 16 percent; October at 1.31 million TEUs, up 10 percent; November at 1.19 million TEUs, up 9 percent; and December at 1.12 million TEUs, up 2 percent.
The 14.5 million TEUs forecast for 2010 would be up from 12.7 million TEUs in 2009, the lowest total since 2003. The 2010 number would remain below the 15.2 million TEUs recorded in 2008.
“We aren’t back to where we were two years ago and consumers aren’t convinced that the recession is over quite yet, but 2010 is clearly going to finish better than last year,” said Jonathan Gold, the federation’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.
“In the meantime, retailers are monitoring demand very closely and hoping to see increases in employment and other areas that will boost consumer confidence,” Gold said. “Cargo numbers this summer are showing unusually high percentage increases, but that appears to be an indication of shortages in shipping capacity earlier in the year rather than sales expectations.”
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, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.