Major U.S. container ports saw import volumes rise 3.7% in February from the previous month, and the growth forecast for the first half of this year has been raised to 1.8% from a previously reported 0.2% decline, according to National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker provided by Hackett Associates.
Helping support the increase are improvements in the U.S. and Chinese manufacturing indexes, according to Daniel Hackett, partner with Hackett Associates.
Incoming volume was 1.54 million containers (twenty-foot-equivalent units or TEUs) in February, according to the Global Port Tracker. The group expects March volumes to be slightly lower, before increasing to 1.61 million TEUs by mid summer.
Hackett said retailers are still carrying high inventory levels which indicates consumers haven’t been spending as much as expected despite lower fuel prices. The Commerce Department reported retail sales were up 0.2% in February from January, or 0.6% excluding gasoline, automobiles and restaurants, or a slower than expected pace.
Compared to last year February container volume was up 28.9%, as labor disputes slowed cargo distribution at the West Coast ports in 2015. He said growth is still strong when compared with 2014, with volume up more than 14% annually over the past two years.
Hackett said the shifting Lunar New Year holiday, when factories in China typically shut down for a couple of weeks, can also lead to big swings in first quarter numbers year to year. He said it would take another month or more for a “truly fair and representative” comparison of year-to-year growth.