WASHINGTON — Improving economic indicators and the looming back-to-school season are behind forecast increases in import cargo volume from July through November, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The ports covered by the tracker handled 1.61 million twenty-foot equivalent units in May, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 6.2 percent from April and 8.2 percent from May 2014.
In the forecast for June, container cargo volume is expected to have grown 5.5 percent to 1.56 million TEU, compared with June 2014. Cargo volume in July is forecast to increase 7.3 percent to 1.6 million TEU.
Following consecutive months of forecast increases, cargo volume is expected to rise in the first half of 2015 to an estimated 8.8 million TEU, a gain of 6.4 percent over the same period last year.
“U.S. consumer spending recorded its largest increase in nearly six years in May, suggesting that the level of confidence about the future has improved,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “This is very positive news.”
The NRF said retailers are building inventories for the bts season.
“Now that West Coast ports have recovered from the congestion caused by the recently settled contract dispute, retailers are focused on the back-to-school season to ensure that parents can find the supplies and clothing their children need for the fall,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the NRF. “Retailers are continuing to work with their business partners to address ongoing congestion issues impacting their supply chains. Part of the solution will be Congress passing a long-term highway bill that addresses freight movement.”
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.
Retailers and apparel brands are lining up behind a new bill introduced in the Senate last month that aims to give governors more power in seeking quick resolutions to slowdowns, strikes and lockouts. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R., Col.) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), would grant state governors Taft-Hartley powers and give them the ability to “convene a board of inquiry and start the Taft-Hartley process whenever a port labor dispute is causing economic harm.”
Under current statute, Taft-Hartley powers are only given to the President, who can only intervene in a port dispute if a strike or lockout occurs. If either of those actions happen, the President can invoke his authority under Taft-Hartley, which could lead to a string of actions, including a request in federal court for an injunction prohibiting a strike for 80 days and federal mediation with binding arbitration to settle the dispute.