U.S. retail container traffic lower than a year ago, with ports handling 1.25 million TEUs in June, down 5% year-over-year, but volumes slated to rise in the fall ahead of holiday season: NRF, Hackett Associates
August 9, 2011
– Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports will remain below last year’s levels for the remainder of the summer before seeing year-over-year gains again this fall as retailers begin to stock up for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Cargo numbers have been down this summer but that’s a reflection of last year’s unusual shipping patterns more than the economy,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The economy continues to face challenges, but job growth has been steady and retailers have been adding jobs themselves as sales improve. Cargo figures for this fall clearly show that retailers are expecting a healthy holiday season.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in June, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was down 2.6 percent from May and 5 percent from June 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
June’s volume broke an 18-month streak of year-over-year improvement dating to December 2009, and declines continued in July, which was estimated at 1.3 million TEU, down 5.7 percent from July 2010. August is forecast at 1.4 million TEU, a 1.6 percent decrease from a year ago. Rather than indicating an economic downturn, however, the numbers are a skewed comparison against higher-than-normal numbers last summer, when fears of shortages in shipping capacity caused many retailers to bring holiday merchandise into the country earlier than usual. Actual retail sales have seen 12 straight months of growth.
Year-over-year increases are expected to resume in September, which is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 10.4 percent from last year. October is forecast at 1.46 million TEU, up 8 percent from last year; November at 1.31 million TEU, up 6.2 percent; and December at 1.18 million TEU, up 3 percent.
The first half of 2011 totaled 7.15 million TEU, up 3.9 percent from the first half of 2010, and the full year is forecast at 15.28 million TEU, up 3.6 percent from 2010. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16 percent increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.
While cargo volume is expected to increase through this fall’s holiday shipping cycle, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said a number of key economic indicators are raising concerns about future cargo growth.
“Industrial production in China is weak, bulk commodity imports are declining, and ports are beginning to report reduced export volumes,” Hackett said. “In the U.S., we have lower private consumption, lower government expenditure and lower indices like the purchasing managers’ index. This is cause for concern because it could lead to lower growth of trade volumes.”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast. The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971. Subscription information for non-members can be found at www.globalportracker.com.
As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF’s global membership includes retailers of all sizes, formats and channels of distribution as well as chain restaurants and industry partners from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. In the United States, NRF represents an industry that includes more than 3.6 million establishments and which directly and indirectly accounts for 42 million jobs – one in four U.S. jobs. The total U.S. GDP impact of retail is $2.5 trillion annually, and retail is a daily barometer of the health of the nation’s economy. www.nrf.com.
Hackett Associates provides expert consulting, research and advisory services to the international maritime industry, government agencies and international institutions.