Containerized imports at major U.S. ports are expected to rise 8.5 percent this month and remain strong through the holiday peak season despite the threat of an East and Gulf Coast port strike, the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said in their monthly Global Port Tracker.
“Retailers are bringing in more merchandise for the holiday season this year. The question at some ports is whether longshoremen will be on the docks to unload it,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.
The International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance are scheduled to resume talks next week under supervision of a federal mediator. The current contract expires Sept. 30.
The Port Tracker raised its forecast for September imports through 10 major U.S. import gateways to 1.49 million 20-foot-equivalent units. The previous forecast for September was 1.46 million TEUs, or a 7.3 percent increase from a year earlier.
October volume is forecast at 1.48 million TEUs, up 11.7 percent; November at 1.32 million TEUs, up 1.9 percent; and December at 1.25 million TEUs, up 2.7 percent. January 2013 is forecast at 1.23 million TEUs, down 3.8 percent from January 2012.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.41 million TEUs in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. July volume was up 2.5 percent from a year earlier. August was estimated at 1.43 million TEUs, up 4.4 percent from last year.
The first half of 2012 totaled 7.7 million TEUs, up 3 percent from a year earlier. For the full year, 2012 is expected to total 16 million TEUs, a 4.2 percent increase.
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said shipping patterns are being affected by the possibility of a strike.
“Importers anticipating a strike placed orders early to ensure that their goods would arrive in time, and are most likely also switching deliveries for the East Coast to the West Coast instead,” Hackett said. “As a consequence, August appears to have been a relatively good month, and September will also be above the norm. The West Coast will benefit at least through October as cargo is diverted.”
Although a work stoppage would be costly to shippers and the economy, Gold said retailers have taken steps to mitigate the impact. “Regardless of what happens with contract talks, retailers have contingency plans in place to ensure that merchandise reaches store shelves in time and that there is no disruption for shoppers,” he said.
Port Tracker’s latest numbers reflect this month’s addition of Port Everglades to the list of harbors covered by the report, with 2011 numbers adjusted to provide accurate comparisons.The report covers the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Miami-Port Everglades, and Houston.