Imports at the nation's major retail containerports are expected to be up a pedestrian 4.4 percent this month over the same time last year as the 2017 holiday shopping season officially gets under way, a new report says.
September was a soft month for shipments, as ports handled 1.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. That was down 6.6 percent from August, the busiest month of the year, and down 1.6 percent from September 2015, the report showed.
But volume rebounded in October to an estimated 1.67 million TEU, up 7.5 percent from last year. The report predicts continued growth, with November forecast at 1.54 million TEU, up 4.4 percent from last year, and December at 1.5 million TEU, up 4.5 percent.
Summed up for the entire year, cargo volume for 2016 is expected to total 18.6 million TEU, up a meager 2.2 percent from last year. The total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4 percent from 2014.
The numbers show that U.S. imports are growing, but not as fast as in past years, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said in the release. "Despite all the good economic news recently, we are faced with imports growing only about 2 percent this year," Hackett said. "Whether that is merely part of the aftermath of the Hanjin bankruptcy or a sign of weakening demand is not yet clear. Unless there is a major disruption, however, growth should be modest but sustained during the first half of 2017."
The cargo volume figures reinforce an earlier forecast that retailers will bank $655.8 billion in holiday sales, a 3.6 -percent increase over last year.
"Retailers are importing more during the holidays this year than last year and that can only mean one thing—they expect to sell more," NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in a release. "Most of the holiday merchandise is already here, but retailers are still restocking to be sure shoppers will have a broad and deep selection as they hit the stores over the next several weeks."
The Global Port Tracker report is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates. It 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.