Volumes for ocean import containers entering the major U.S. ports are expected to rise in August after declining for four of the past five months, according to a monthly report published today by the National Retail Federation and the consulting company Hackett Associates. This increase is a presage to what is forecasted to be a decent peak holiday sea shipping season.
The "Port Tracker" report projects that about 1.45 million import twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers will enter the ports in August, a 1.7-percent increase from the same period in 2012. The expected August gains come after volumes declined in every month since March, with the exception of May.
The report projects that volumes will continue to increase year-over-year for the rest of 2013. September volumes are expected to be up 1.9 percent from year-earlier levels, according to the report. October volumes are expected to rise 8.3 percent, with November volumes increasing 6.7 percent, and December volumes up 3.5 percent, according to the report. For the year, import container volumes are expected to rise by 2.4 percent from 2012, according to the report. If the forecasts prove accurate, the United States' main ports will handle 16.2 million TEUs in 2013.
"Merchants have been very cautious so far this year, but our forecasts show that they plan to make up for it in the next few months," Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement.
Ben Hackett, head of Hackett Associates, said trade activity at the ports has been tracking the slow-but-steady economic recovery in the United States. Hackett said, however, that it is unclear if importers are now adding inventories ahead of expected holiday sales demand or to beat recently announced carrier rate increases heading into the peak shipping period.
The Port Tracker numbers only count the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them. The survey covers the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami; and Houston.
The Port Tracker report comes a week after Zepol Corp., a trade consultancy, said U.S. imports in July hit their highest monthly level since July 2007. The United States imported 1.69 million TEUs in July, 13 percent more than in June and 2 percent more than in July 2012.
Zepol CEO Paul Rasmussen said that the July data was stronger than expected, even taking into account that July and August are traditionally the year's two busiest shipping months as retailers prepare for the holidays.
U.S. imports from Asia rose 13 percent in July from year-earlier figures, Zepol said. Import traffic from China rose to its highest level since 2001, according to the data.
Zepol's data is generated from bills of lading entered into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). The information represents the number of manifests entered by ocean importers of waterborne vessel goods.