Import volume at major U.S. retail ports is expected to rise 9.1 percent month-over-month in October, despite concerns over the government shutdown, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker, published by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has furloughed 6,000 workers because of the government shutdown that began last week, but Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said the impact at the docks should be “minimal” since ports will remain open. However, other government agencies that have a role in clearing cargo at the ports have not remained as staffed as CBP, leaving retailers cautious, the report said.
“With the holidays nearly here, retailers are making sure their shelves are well-stocked,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, in a written statement. “Cargo is continuing to move through the ports but the government shutdown has left some agencies shorthanded, so NRF will monitor the situation closely as the holidays approach.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.48 million 20-foot-equivalent units in August, up 2.5 percent from July and 3.8 percent from August 2012. September was estimated at 1.47 million TEUs, up 4.9 percent year-over-year, and October was predicted at 1.46 million TEUs. August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country, the report noted. The 4.42 million cargo containers expected for those months combined would constitute a 5.9 percent increase over last year and account for 25.6 percent of all retail imports for the entire year.
The report also predicted that import volume will reach 16.3 million TEUs by the end of 2013, up 2.7 percent from 2012’s 15.8 million TEUs.
Despite the current increases, container traffic growth overall has been slow this year, and the reduced demand for shipping capacity has ocean carriers cutting the number of vessels on the water and taking other steps, according to Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates’ founder.
“The supply-and-demand balance dictates pricing,” Hackett said. “This has left the carriers to find ways to cut costs as a means to better financial results. Using larger ships is one solution, and larger alliances as a means to managing capacity is another.