NRF: Labor fears drive higher retail imports

Washington, D.C. — Import volume at major U.S. container ports is expected to increase 7.5% in June as retailers bring unusually high quantities of merchandise into the country early to avoid any potential disruptions after the labor contract with West Coast dockworkers expires. According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, in June U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker are expected to handle 1.46 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU), up 7.5% year-over-year.

One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. May was estimated at 1.47 million TEU, up 5.8% from the same month the prior year. In April, the most recent month for after-the-fact numbers, major U.S. container ports handled 1.43 million TEU, up 10.3% year-over-year.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. The number was up 9.9% from March and 10.3% from April 2013. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

July is forecast at an even-higher 1.51 million TEU, up 4.4% from last year; August at 1.52 million TEU, up 1.9%; September at 1.45 million TEU, up 0.8%; and October at 1.48 million TEU, up 3.4%.

The first half of the year is expected to total 8.3 million TEU, up 6.5% from the first half of 2013. The total for 2013 was 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU.

The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1% sales growth in 2014. Cargo volume does not correlate directly with sales but is a barometer of retailers’ expectations.

The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union began negotiations last month on a new contract to replace the agreement that expires June 30. NRF has urged both sides to avoid any disruptions that could affect the flow of back-to-school or holiday merchandise.
West Coast ports handle more than two-thirds of U.S. retail container cargo, including the bulk of cargo from Asia. The last major coast-wide shutdown there occurred in the fall of 2002, closing ports for 10 days and creating a months-long backlog to be cleared.

“We don’t want to see disruptions at the ports but retailers are making sure they are prepared in case that happens,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Whether it’s bringing cargo in early or other contingency plans, retailers will keep the shelves stocked for the back-to-school and holiday seasons.”




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