Import volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to grow 5.1 percent in September over the same month last year as retailers head into the holiday season, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
"Retailers are making up for the slow imports seen earlier in the year," Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement. "It's too early to predict holiday sales, but merchants are clearly stocking up."
The U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in July, the latest month for which actual data is available. That was a 5.4-percent increase over June and 1.1-percent increase over July 2012. The increase in July follows year-over-year declines for three of the four previous months.
Global Port Tracker estimates that August saw 1.48 million TEUs, up 4.1 percent from last year. September is also forecasted at 1.48 million TEU, up 5.1 percent from last year; October at 1.46 million TEU, up 9 percent from last year; November at 1.31 million TEU, up 2.2 percent; and December at 1.3 million TEU, up 0.7 percent. January 2014 is forecast at 1.33 million TEU, up 1.9 percent from January 2013.
The report forecasts that the total shipments for 2013 will be 16.2 million TEU, up 2.5 percent from 2012's 15.8 million TEU. The first six months of 2013 totaled 7.8 million TEU, up 1.2 percent from the first half of 2012.
Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them. But the amount of imported merchandise is seen as providing an accurate window into retailers' expectations.
"The U.S. economy is on the road to sustained growth," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, in a statement. "Second-quarter gross domestic product was well above expectations and surprised most forecasters, the unemployment picture is improving, and we believe consumer confidence will translate into increased sales during the fourth quarter."
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. 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.
The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971.