Containerized imports should be higher each month over the next five months as U.S. retailers replenish their stocks for the new year, according to the Global Port Tracker published by the National Retail Federation and Ben Hackett Associates.
Global Port Tracker estimated that imports in December increased 6.5 percent over December 2011. January is forecast to be up 2.3 percent, February up 6 percent, March up 0.5 percent, April up 1.7 percent and May up 3.4 percent year-over-year.
The import picture remains clouded, however, because of ongoing uncertainties involving the contract negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association and waterfront employers at East and Gulf Coast ports.
The ILA contract expired on Sept. 30, and it has been extended twice since. Negotiations have failed to produce an agreement despite the involvement of federal mediators. Negotiations will continue next week.
“The strike deadline came and went at the end of December, but the threat of closing down nearly half of our nation’s port capacity has only been postponed, not eliminated,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the NRF.
In November, the last full month for which Global Port Tracker has complete numbers, imports were down 2.8 percent compared to November 2011. Hackett indicated that retailers brought their holiday merchandise into the country earlier than usual this year because of concerns over possible labor disruptions.
“We have seen a rise in the level of the retail inventory-to-sales ratio. This may be a reflection of importers stocking up ahead of the East Coast-Gulf Coast port strike that was expected, though the run-up came well ahead of that,” he said.
Global Port Tracker said imports in the first half of 2012 increased 3 percent from the same period in 2011. Calendar year 2012 imports are projected to be 2.9 percent higher than in 2011.