Retail imports rise despite government shutdown

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 159 views 

The approaching holiday season is expected to push retail freight 9.1% higher in October, compared to the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker survey released by the National Retail Federation on Monday (Oct. 7).

The numbers reflect merchandise ordered months before the shutdown as retailers planned for the holiday season.

“With the holidays nearly here, retailers are making sure their shelves are well-stocked,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for NRF supply chain and customs policy. “Cargo is continuing to move through the ports but the government shutdown has left some agencies short-handed, so NRF will monitor the situation closely as the holidays approach.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has furloughed 6,000 workers because of the government shutdown that began last week, but acting commissioner Thomas Winkowski said the impact at the docks should be “minimal” since ports will remain open, with inspectors continuing to work and process cargo. But other government agencies that have a role in clearing cargo at the ports have not remained as staffed as CBP, leaving retailers concerned.

The forecast comes as NRF is predicting that this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9% over last year to a total of $602.1 billion. Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them.

August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.42 million cargo containers expected for those months combined is a 5.9% increase over last year and accounts for 25.6% of all retail imports for the entire year.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.48 million large containers in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was a 2.5% increase over July and up 3.8% from August 2012.

Freight estimates

• September: 1.47 million containers, up 4.9%

• October: 1.46 million containers, up 9.1%.
• November: 1.33 million containers, up 3.4%
• December: 1.31 million containers, up 1.8%.

The 2013 full year forecast is 16.3 million containers, up 2.7% from last year.

Despite the increases, container traffic growth overall has been slow this year, and the reduced demand for shipping capacity has ocean carriers cutting the number of vessels on the water and taking other steps, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said.

“The supply-and-demand balance dictates pricing,” Hackett said. “This has left the carriers to find ways to cut costs as a means to better financial results. Using larger ships is one solution, and larger alliances as a means to managing capacity is another.