September import volume is forecast to climb 1.2%

September import volume is forecast to climb 1.2%

Import cargo volume at major US retail container ports is set to climb year-on-year in September as retailers gear up for the all-important holiday selling season.

September import volume will total 1.61m containers, up 1.2% from the same month last year, and the 1.57m forecast for August, according to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“After supply chain worries earlier this year, inventories are plentiful this fall,” said NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Shoppers should have no worries about finding what they’re looking for as they begin their holiday shopping.”

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 1.62m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.9% from June, and 8.1% from July 2014. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

August was estimated at 1.6m TEU, up 5.5% from 2014. October at 1.62m TEU, up 3.8%; November at 1.5m TEU, up 7.9%, and December at 1.44m TEU, down 0.2%.

Those numbers would bring 2015 to a total of 18.2m TEU, up 5.4% from last year. The first half of 2015 totalled 8.9m TEU, up 6.5% over the same period last year.

January 2016 is forecast at 1.44m TEU, up 16.9% from weak numbers seen a year earlier – just before West Coast dockworkers agreed a new contract that ended a months-long labour dispute.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said economists have been watching a “stubbornly high” inventory-to-sales ratio this summer. But, he said the cause appears to be the flood of cargo that came after the new West Coast dockworkers’ contract was signed rather than weakness in demand.