Strong growth in merchandise imports to resume in fall

Washington, D.C. -- Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase a modest 1.1% in July over the same month last year, but a slow summer should be followed by significant increases as retailers head into the holiday season this fall, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.


“With the economy recovering slowly, retailers have been cautious with imports this summer but it’s clear that they expect an upturn later in the year,” NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “Import numbers have been close to flat since spring, but we expect to see stronger increases this fall.”

Cargo import numbers count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them. But the amount of merchandise imported nonetheless provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations. U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.38 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 1.2% from April.

June was estimated at 1.37 million TEU, down 0.7% from a year ago. July is forecast at 1.43 million TEU, up 1.1% from last year; August at 1.45 million TEU, up 1.7%; September at 1.44 million TEU, up 2.4%; October at 1.46 million TEU, up 9.1%; and November at 1.38 million TEU, up 7.3%. The first six months of 2013 totaled an estimated 7.8 million TEU, up 1.2% from the first half of 2012. The total for 2012 was 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9% from 2011.


Despite the projected increase in imports, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said actual results will hinge on consumer confidence.
 
“Consumer sales remain relatively weak compared with GDP,” Hackett said. “If consumers do not turn their confidence into purchases then import volumes will drop.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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