Retail imports expected to rise in March after sluggish start in 2014

Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 12.4% in March as retailers begin to stock up for the spring and the summer season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday (March 10) by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Retailers are bouncing back from the annual post-holiday slowdown and getting ready for the surge in activity that comes each year as the weather warms up,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs. “Shelves are going to be well-stocked with everything from bathing suits to barbecues.”

Gold said congestion has been a problem for many ports during this slowdown, so operations will need to improve to handle the expected surge in the coming months.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.36 million containers in January, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 5.3% from December and 4.1% from January 2013. Each container is 20-foot feet long.

February, historically the slowest month of the year, was estimated at 1.17 million containers down 8.8% from the same month last year, according to the release. March is forecast at 1.28 million container units up 12.4% from last year and April is expected to see at 1.36 million containers, up 5.1%.

Forecasts for retail imports through the first half of 2014 are expected to increase 3.5% from the prior year to 8 million container units, the release states.

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“At the end of the day, it all depends on consumption,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We cannot escape the basic tenant of economics that demand determines growth or weakness.  Somehow, the average consumer needs to be given the economic confidence to go out and spend. Without that, the economy will remain weak and no amount of tinkering by the Federal Reserve will have much of an impact.”

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