August should be the peak month of the annual shipping season

August should be the peak month of the annual shipping season

August should be the busiest month of the year for import cargo volume at major US retail container ports as retailers stock up for back-to-school and get a head start on holiday season merchandise, a new report says.

According to the Global Port Tracker report just released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, cargo volume for 2016 should end the year with a 1.6% increase on last year.

"Shoppers are right in the middle of buying back-to-school products but the retail supply chain is already preparing for the holiday season," says Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "August is the peak month of the annual shipping season that builds up to the winter holidays, and a lot of the merchandise consumers will be buying this fall is already showing up at the docks."

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. Nonetheless, the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers' expectations.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.58m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2.8% from May and 0.5% from June of last year. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

July was estimated at 1.64m TEU, up 1.5% from last year; August at 1.68m TEU, down 0.3%; September at 1.61m TEU, down 0.6%; October at 1.63m TEU, up 4.9%; November at 1.52m TEU, up 2.9%; and December at 1.47m TEU, a rise of 2.5%.

Those numbers should bring 2016 to a total of 18.5m TEU, up 1.7% from last year. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2m TEU, up 5.4% from 2014. The first half of 2016 totalled 8.98m TEU, up 1.4% from the same period in 2015.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said much of the recent upturn in the US economy is attributable to consumers, noting that the 5.1% increase in year-over-year retail sales in June as calculated by NRF was nearly twice the 2.6% increase in average hourly wages seen the same month.

"In these stressed times with uncertainty abounding amid an unusual presidential election and other issues, consumers have decided it is time to hit the stores and stock up on goods," he adds.