Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to grow 1.8% in December over the same month last year, and the year should end with an increase of 2.3% over 2012, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released this week by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Imports have seen good growth over last year and retailers are well-stocked as the holiday season continues,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and policy. “Holiday merchandise has made it from the ships to the shelves and the rest is up to the shoppers."
The cargo numbers come as NRF predicts that this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9% over last year to a total of $602.1 billion. Cargo import figures do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them, but are an indicator of retailers’ sales expectations.
August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.35 million cargo containers handled during those months combined represented a 4.3% increase over last year and accounted for 26.8%t of all retail imports for the entire year.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million large cargo container units in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.4% from September as the peak shipping cycle wound down but up 6.4% from October 2012.
November was estimated at 1.33 million containers, up 3.6% from last year. December is forecast at 1.31 million containers, up 1.8% from last year.
The total for 2013 is forecast at 16.2 million containers, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8 million. Volume totaled 7.8 million containers in the first half of 2013, up 1.2% from the first half of 2012.
“The U.S. economy appears to have found a growth spurt,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, citing estimated third-quarter gross domestic product growth of 3.6%. “The paradox is that consumer spending remains very cautious and does not come anywhere near the expansion of GDP. The reason is the increasing levels of inventory. Despite back-to-school sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and regular sales, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains stubbornly high. Hopefully, November and December numbers will show a catch-up that will help reduce the inventories.”
• January, imports are forecast at 1.35 million containers, up 3.3% from January 2013;
• February, at 1.18 million containers, down 7.8% from last year;
• March at 1.32 million containers, up 15.9%; and
• April at 1.38 million containers, up 6.6%.