Import volume at America’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 6.1% in April, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released on April 7 by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates. “With winter over, retailers are stocking up in anticipation of a busy spring and summer. Consumers can expect plentiful supplies of merchandise,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “A busy time is expected over the next few months, so retailers are keeping a close eye on the labour situation at West Coast ports to ensure that cargo continues to move smoothly,” he adds, noting that the current contract for West Coast dockworkers expires June 30 but negotiations are not expected to begin until mid-May. “Companies are already exploring contingency plans in case of a disruption.”
US ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.26 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. February is historically the slowest month of the year, and the number was down 8.4% from January and 1.4% from February 2013. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. March was estimated at 1.31 million TEU, up 15% from the same month last year. April is forecast at 1.38 million TEU, up 6.1% from last year; May at 1.44 million TEU, up 3.8%; June at 1.43 million TEU, up 5.5%; July at 1.49 million TEU, up 3.1%; and August at 1.51 million TEU, up 1.2%. The first half of the year is expected to total 8.2 million TEU, up 5.5% over last year. The total for 2013 was 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU.
The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1% sales growth in 2014, contingent on how Washington policies on economic issues affect consumer confidence. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales but is a barometer of retailers’ expectations. “There is positive news with both the rebound in US retail sales in February and the new filings for jobless benefits hitting a fresh three-month low last week, suggesting that the economy is gaining momentum,” observes Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. “Our forecast continues to reflect the economic rebound and we remain convinced that 2014 will have sustainable growth,” he asserts.
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the US ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.