The US imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to be up 3.2 percent this month over the same time last year as stores bring in the last of the merchandise for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“There’s still shopping to be done, and retailers are making sure the gifts that need to be under a tree are waiting on the shelves,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Imports are up a healthy amount over this time last year, and that’s a good sign for holiday sales and the economy.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.67 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.6 percent from September and up 7.4 percent from October 2015. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent. November was estimated at 1.53 million TEU, up 3.6 percent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 3.2 percent.
The numbers come as NRF is forecasting $655.8 billion in holiday sales, a 3.6 percent increase over last year. Cargo volume does not correlate directly to sales because only the number of containers is counted, not the value of the cargo inside. But it nonetheless serves as a barometer of retailers’ expectations.
Cargo volume for 2016 is expected to total 18.6 million TEU, up 2 percent from last year. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4 percent from 2014. The first half of 2016 totaled 9 million TEU, up 1.6 percent from the same period in 2015. January 2017 is forecast at 1.54 million TEU, up 3.2 percent from January 2016; February at 1.49 million TEU, down 3.5 percent from last year; March at 1.38 million TEU, up 4.4 percent from last year, and April at 1.54 million TEU, up 6.4 percent.
With cargo growth at covered U.S. ports for the year coming in at only 2 percent, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said a trend of imports exceeding growth of gross domestic product appears to have ended.
“This is a new phenomenon,” Hackett said. “It was not long ago when industry leaders were doing their forecasts based on trade growth outpacing GDP by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. Those days are gone.”
NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. Hackett Associates provides expert consulting, research and advisory services to the international maritime industry, government agencies and international institutions.