The numbers come as NRF is forecasting US$655.8bn in holiday sales, a 3.6% increase over 2015

The numbers come as NRF is forecasting US$655.8bn in holiday sales, a 3.6% increase over 2015

October should be the second-busiest month of the year for import cargo volume at major US retail container ports as retailers stock up for the holiday shopping season, 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 2.1% increase on last year.

The numbers come as NRF is forecasting US$655.8bn in holiday sales, a 3.6% increase over 2015.

"The holidays are nearly here, and from warehouses to store shelves, retailers are making sure they have the merchandise on hand to meet consumers' demands,"says Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "November and December are the busiest time for holiday shopping, but this is the month for the behind-the-scenes supply chain work that ensures shoppers will find what they want, where they want it, when they want it."

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 1.71m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 5% from July and up 1.7% from August of last year, and has been the busiest month of the year so far. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

Volume dipped in September to an estimated 1.64m TEU but was still up 0.9% from last year. Meanwhile, October is forecast at 1.65m TEU, up 6% from last year; November at 1.54m TEU, up 3.9%, and December at 1.48m TEU, a rise of 3.4%.

Those numbers should bring 2016 to a total of 18.6m TEU, up 2.1% from last year. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2m TEU, up 5.4% from 2014. The first half of 2016 totalled 9m TEU, up 1.6% from the same period in 2015.

Meanwhile, January 2017 is forecast at 1.53m TEU, up 2.7% from January of this year. February is forecast at 1.47m TEU, down 4.4% from last year.

After a long period of high inventory levels, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett notes the retail industry inventory-to-sales ratio stood at 1.49 in July, the latest number available from the US Census Bureau. That was down from 1.5 in June and a peak of 1.52 in March.

"The inventory-to-sales ratio, one of the best indicators of where the economy is going, is finally declining," Hackett said. "It's not down by much, but the key is that the sharp rise seen earlier this year appears to have come to an end."

Separately, US retailers were warned last week of supply chain delays that could occur in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Supply chain experts are cautioning retailers in the run-up to the busy holiday season that the hurricane could have an impact on shipments and orders that may become delayed or re-routed.

US retailers warned of hurricane delays to supply chains