Despite declining numbers during the next few months, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to show a 4.5-percent increase for the first half of 2016, compared with the same period last year, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report issued today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consulting firm Hackett Associates LLC.
"Retailers are carefully managing their inventories but still need to stock up on seasonal goods for spring and summer," NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. "Comparisons with last year are difficult because of the surge of cargo after problems at West Coast ports ended, but we think consumers will continue to increase their spending this year, and retailers will be ready."
December showed a slight slump among the 11 ports covered in the report, which handled 1.43 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), a drop of 3.4 percent in volume from November and 0.8 percent from the year before. But the numbers still brought 2015 to a strong finish of 18.2 million TEU, up 5.3 percent from 2014, according to the monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released Feb. 9.
The impact of last year's contract impasse between West Coast dockworkers and their employers will skew the year-over-year comparisons of these monthly volume numbers, since many ports saw severe congestion followed by a flood of backlogged cargo when the conflict was finally resolved in February 2015.
That skew explains why January's predicted volume of 1.46 million TEU would be up an enormous 18.3 percent over 2015, February's estimated 1.39 million TEU would be up 16.2 percent, and March's estimated 1.35 million TEU would be down 22.4 percent.
Economic patterns should return to normal in the second quarter, and produce an overall volume of 8.8 million TEU for the first half of 2016, worth a 4.5-percent increase over 2015, the report predicts.