U.S. Cargo Volumes Heading for Record High
Import cargo volume at the U.S.’s major retail container ports is expected to be at some of its highest levels ever during the next few months despite a falloff from last year’s record-setting numbers, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Retailers are importing less merchandise than last year but these are still some of the highest numbers we’ve ever seen,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Carefully managing imports will balance out high inventory levels, but consumers can still expect to see a deep and broad selection of products.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million TEUs in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 14.2 percent from February, partly because of a carryover from Chinese New Year factory closings. It was also down a dramatic 23.7 percent from the all-time record high set in March 2015 after a new contract with dockworkers ended a near-shutdown at West Coast ports and brought a flood of backlogged cargo through the ports.
April was estimated at 1.5 million TEU, down 0.8 percent from the same month last year, when 2015’s unusual pattern of cargo volumes started to stabilize. May is forecast at 1.57 million TEU, down 2.7 percent from last year; June at 1.56 million TEU, down 0.8 percent; July at 1.61 million TEU, down 0.6 percent; August at 1.62 million TEU, down 3.7 percent, and September at 1.56 million TEU, down 3.9 percent.
The 1.73 million TEU seen in March 2015 broke a previous record of 1.59 million TEU set in September 2014, and was followed by numbers as high as 1.68 million TEU before last year’s unusually patterns settled down. But this year’s forecast peak of 1.62 million TEU in August would still be among the six highest months on record.
The first half of 2016 is expected to total nine million TEU, up 1.4 percent from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4 percent from 2014.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the decreased imports reflect both high inventory levels and slow growth in consumer spending in recent months.
“Consumer spending is still growing but not as fast as in the past,” Hackett said. “A more cautious approach is being taken.”