Import cargo volume at the busiest U.S. container ports is expected to be flat this summer before rising by double digits this fall, the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said in their monthly Global Port Tracker.
“With the economy facing continuing challenges, retailers are managing their inventory levels carefully,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “But the increases in import volume expected this fall are a clear sign that retailers are confident consumer demand will be there in the fourth quarter.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.28 million 20-foot-equivalent units in May, the latest month for which actual statistics are available. That was up 1 percent from May 2010 and was the 18th straight month of year-over-year gains.
The forecasts for the next three months are: June, 1.31 million TEUs, down 0.8 percent; July, 1.36 million TEUs, down 1.3 percent; and August, 1.43 million TEUs, up 0.6 percent.
Stronger increases are expected to return in September as retailers begin to stock up for the holiday season, with volume forecast at 1.47 million TEUs, up 10 percent from last year. October is forecast at 1.53 million TEUs, up 18 percent, and November at 1.41 million TEUs, up 19 percent.
The first half of 2011 is estimated at 7.2 million TEUs, up 5 percent from the first half of 2010. Global Port Tracker said its current forecast of 6.2 percent growth to 15.7 million TEU forecast for 2011 “remains realistic under the circumstances.” Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16 percent increase over 2009.
“The low level of inventories-to-sales ratios suggest that import container flows will continue at their suppressed levels for the summer,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “On the bright side, there will be no imminent boom or bust in volumes as we experienced in 2007 and 2010.”
Global Port Tracker overseas U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma; New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah and Houston.