Import volume at major U.S. container ports is expected to hit an all-time record in August as retailers concerned about the lack of a West Coast longshoremen's contract rush to bring holiday season merchandise into the country, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
Import volume at U.S. ports covered by the Global Port Tracker report is expected to total 1.54 million containers this month, which is expected to be the peak for the year. That's the highest monthly volume since NRF began tracking import volume in 2000, topping a previous record of 1.53 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) set in July. (One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.)
The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) expired on July 1. Dockworkers have stayed on the job as both sides continue to negotiate in the hopes of reaching a new agreement. Both have reported that talks have been "productive."
U.S. ports monitored by the report handled 1.48 million TEUs in June, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 0.38 percent from May but up 9.1 percent from June 2013.
July was estimated at 1.53 million TEUs, up 5.8 percent from the same month last year. September is projected at 1.48 million TEUs, up 2.8 percent from last year. October is also projected at 1.48 million TEUs, up 3.3 percent from year-earlier levels.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the volume surges reflect an improving U.S. economy and decisions by retailers to expedite their import flows due to uncertainty surrounding the contract negotiations.
"U.S. [gross domestic product] has increased in 11 out of the last 12 quarters, confirming that we are in a sustained period of expansion," Hackett said. He added, however, that "a significant portion" of the import gains have come from importers moving up their orders and deliveries to safeguard their supply chains against potential labor-related disruptions.
Global Port Tracker covers the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami; and Houston.