Import cargo volume at major US retail container ports is seen slowing this month

Import cargo volume at major US retail container ports is seen slowing this month

Import cargo volume at the US's major retail container ports is likely to slow in November following record levels in September and October as retailers rushed to bring merchandise into the country ahead of a possible shutdown at West Coast ports.

The Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates expects November import volume to total 1.4m containers - down from the record 1.59m each in September and October.

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.

"Retailers have done all they can to stock their shelves and build up inventories in case the worst should happen," said NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.

"We believe it's time for President Obama to send in a federal mediator and do what it takes to reach an agreement that will work to the benefit of not just labour and management but all the businesses and consumers who depend on these ports."

US businesses are urging the government to intervene in the ongoing dispute at US west coast ports, amid worsening delays on shipments of holiday merchandise and fears of a total shutdown.

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.

The 1.59m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) handled in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, was up 5.2% from August and 10.9% from September 2013. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

October was estimated at 1.59m TEU, within around 3,000 containers of September's level and up 11% from the same month last year. November's forecast of 1.4m TEU would be up 3.9% higher than last year, and December is forecast at 1.36mn TEU, up 3.3%.

Those numbers would bring 2014 to a total of 17.3m TEU, an increase of 6.4% over 2013's 16.2m. Imports in 2012 totalled 15.8m. The first half of 2014 totalled 8.3m TEU, up 7% on last year.

January 2015 is forecast at 1.42m TEU, up 3.1% from January 2014, February at 1.35m TEU, up 8.4% from last year, and March at 1.33m TEU, up 2.3%.

"September was a bumper crop well above even our own expectations," said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. "Despite all the delays, vessels do continue to berth and discharge their cargo."

Click on the following link for further insight on the ongoing dispute at US west coast ports: Port shutdown fears add to US apparel headwinds.