Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to post year-over-year increases of 1.8 percent for December and 2.3 percent for the year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report produced by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The forecasts for the month and year reaffirmed estimates in last month’s Port Tracker, which covers 10 major U.S. import gateways.
Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno’s latest forecast for all U.S. ports calls for import TEU growth of 3.5 percent during 2013 and 6 percent in 2014. Moreno forecasts that exports through all U.S,. ports will rise 1.9 percent in 2013 and 2 percent in 2014.
“Imports have seen good growth over last year and retailers are well-stocked as the holiday season continues,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Holiday merchandise has made it from the ships to the shelves and the rest is up to the shoppers.”
The NRF predicts this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9 percent over last year to a total of $602.1 billion. Cargo import figures do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them, but they are an indicator of retailers’ sales expectations.
August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.35 million 20-foot-equivalent units handled during those months combined represented a 4.3 percent increase over last year and accounted for 26.8 percent of all retail imports for the entire year.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million TEUs in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.4 percent from September as the peak shipping cycle wound down, but up 6.4 percent from October 2012.
November was estimated at 1.33 million TEUs, up 3.6 percent from last year. December is forecast at 1.31 million TEUs, up 1.8 percent;. January 2014 is forecast at 1.35 million TEUs, up 3.3 percent; February at 1.18 million TEUs, down 7.8 percent; March at 1.32 million TEUs, up 15.9 percent; and April at 1.38 million TEUs, up 6.6 percent.
The total for 2013 is forecast at 16.2 million TEUs, up 2.3 percent. The first six months of 2013 totaled 7.8 million TEUs, up 1.2 percent from the first half of 2012.
Global Port Tracker covers the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.
“The U.S. economy appears to have found a growth spurt,” said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, citing estimated third-quarter gross domestic product growth of 3.6 percent. “The paradox is that consumer spending remains very cautious and does not come anywhere near the expansion of GDP. The reason is the increasing levels of inventory. Despite back-to-school sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and regular sales, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains stubbornly high. Hopefully, November and December numbers will show a catch-up that will help reduce the inventories.”