WASHINGTON — Retailers building up inventories for the holiday season were behind a forecast increase in import cargo volume this month, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 1.2 percent to 1.61 million twenty-foot equivalent units this month compared with September 2014. The ports covered by the tracker handled 1.62 million twenty-foot equivalent units in July, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 2.9 percent from June and 8.1 percent from July 2014.
“After supply chain worries earlier this year, inventories are plentiful this fall,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the NRF. “Shoppers should have no worries about finding what they’re looking for as they begin their holiday shopping.”
In the forecast for August, container cargo volume was expected to have grown 5.5 percent to 1.6 million TEU compared to August 2014. Cargo volume in October is forecast to increase 3.8 percent to 1.62 million TEU, while cargo volume in November is forecast to increase 7.9 percent to 1.5 million TEU. Cargo volume in December is expected to decline 0.2 percent to 1.44 million TEU.
Total cargo volume for the full year is expected to hit 18.2 million TEU, an increase of 5.4 percent over 2014. The first half of 2015 totaled 8.9 million TEU, an increase of 6.5 percent over the same period last year.
While volume in December is expected to dip, the forecast for cargo volume in January is strong. The tracker is predicting a 16.9 percent increase in volume to 1.44 million TEU in January 2016 compared with weaker numbers in January 2015 related to the West Coast port dispute.
The port dispute lasted 10 months and caused major congestion and delays at 29 West Coast ports earlier this year. The International Longshore & Warehouse Union, representing nearly 20,000 dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing 72 cargo carriers and terminal operators, reached a tentative five-year agreement at the end of February, which was ratified in May.
Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates 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 as opposed to weakness in demand.