Ocean imports at the nation's major container ports should approach peak levels this month, even as retailers grapple with the sudden bankruptcy of Korean liner firm Hanjin Shipping Co., according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy Hackett Associates.
"Hanjin should not significantly affect volume for the month, since alternative arrangements to unload those containers or shift cargo elsewhere should be dealt with by the time the numbers are tallied," Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement. Gold cautioned, however, that millions of dollars of merchandise is "in limbo," and that U.S. retailers will need to push hard to ensure they get on store shelves in time for the holidays.
Hanjin, the world's seventh-largest container line, filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 31 after banks—led by the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB)—rejected Hanjin's parent's restructuring plan on grounds that it was inadequate to reduce the carrier's US$5 billion debt load. Ports and terminal operators have refused to load or unload Hanjin vessels for fear of not getting paid. This has left ships and their cargoes stranded and forced shippers to seek alternate means of transportation. Hanjin accounted for about 8 percent of all twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) capacity sailing from Asia to the U.S.
However, it is believed that many shippers, freight forwarders, and beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) had sufficiently diversified their bookings so that the Hanjin collapse would not be an undue burden on their supply chains.
The monthly Global Port Tracker survey of the 11 largest U.S. containerports said that the ports handled 1.63 million TEUs in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 3.2 percent from June and up 0.7 percent from July 2015, according to the survey. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
August, expected to be the busiest month of the pre-holiday ocean shipping cycle, was projected to come in at 1.67 million TEU, down 0.4 percent from last year. September is forecast to be down year over year, while October through December are each expected to show year-over-year gains, according to survey projections.
By year's end, total TEU traffic will reach 18.6 million units, up 1.8 percent over 2015, according to the report.
"Despite the apparent slowdown in economic activity being reported around the world, the volume of imports continues to grow slowly, much along the lines that we have been projecting," said Ben Hackett, Hackett's founder.
Global Port Tracker covers the 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.