Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to see a final surge and set a new monthly record in October as the holiday season approaches, according to the National Retail Federation.
“Increasing congestion at the nation’s ports as well as the ongoing West Coast labor negotiations are ongoing concerns and retailers are making one last push to make sure they’re stocked up for the holidays,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Retailers are working hard to make sure customers can find what they’re looking for regardless of what happens at the ports.”
Import volume at U.S. ports covered by Hackett & Associates’ Global Port Tracker report is expected to total 1.53 million containers this month, topping the 1.52 million monthly record set in August. Cargo volume has been well above average each month since spring as retailers have imported merchandise early in case of any disruption on the docks.
The contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expired on July 1, prompting concerns about potential disruptions that could affect back-to-school or holiday merchandise. Dockworkers remain on the job as negotiations continue but the lack of a contract and operational issues have led to record congestion at the ports.
The 1.52 million containers handled in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, was up 1.5% from July and 2.1% from August 2013.
September was estimated at 1.48 million containers up 2.8% from the same month last year, and October’s forecast of 1.53 million containers would be up 6.4% from last year.
November is forecast at 1.39 million containers, up 3.7%, and December at 1.37 million containers up 3.9%.
Those numbers would bring 2014 to a total of 17.1 million containers, an increase of 5.3% over 2013.
“The consumer is back,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, citing reduced unemployment, improved consumer confidence and other indicators. “That’s all good news for retailers, ports and shipping lines.”
While cargo volume does not correlate directly with retail sales it is a barometer of retailer’s expectations. The NRF has forecast a 4.1% holiday season sales growth with 3.6% sales growth for 2014 overall.