This year’s pace of import shipments represents a normal pattern compared to last year’s wild ride at West Coast ports that included a virtual shutdown and frenetic catch-up after a prolonged labor dispute ended.
The monthly Global Port Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates showed import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports has begun an annual climb toward summer levels, but is expected to be largely flat when compared with last year’s record high numbers.
“Last year was a roller coaster, but this year we’re expecting a nice, steady climb right through the summer,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF. “We’re finally getting back to normal patterns as cargo builds up toward the back-to-school season and eventually the holiday season. Despite the year-over-year comparisons, these are still strong numbers.”
Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.54 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in February, the latest month for which statistics are available. That was up 3.7 percent from January and a dramatic 28.9 percent higher than unusually low figures in February 2015, when a new contract with dockworkers ended a near-shutdown at West Coast ports. One TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
March was estimated at 1.35 million TEU, down 22.1 percent from the flood of traffic seen last year as the new contract released a backlog of cargo. April is forecast at 1.5 million TEU, down 0.8 percent from last year; May at 1.58 million TEU, down 2.1 percent; June at 1.56 million TEU, down 0.6 percent; July at 1.61 million TEU, down 0.5 percent, and August also at 1.61 million TEU, down 3.9 percent.
The first half of 2016 is expected to total 9 million TEU, up 1.8 percent from the same period in 2015. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million TEU, up 5.4 percent from 2014.
Despite high retail inventory levels and other mixed economic indicators, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett noted that overall retail sales were up 0.2 percent in February over January and 0.6 percent when gasoline, automobiles and restaurants are excluded.
“That was not spectacular but still up, suggesting that there is still some steam left in U.S. consumers,” Hackett said. “They are shrugging off the gloomy global outlook.”
Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach; Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York-New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Port Everglades and Miami, Fla., on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.