Retail container traffic to be up 13% in March
Washington, D.C. Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be up 13% in March compared with the same month a year ago. In addition, double-digit increases are expected to continue through the summer as the U.S. economy begins in improve, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“These numbers show that retailers continue to anticipate improvements in the U.S. economy,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy. “This is very different from the past two years when merchants were continually cutting their imports in an effort to manage inventory.”
U.S. ports handled 1.08 million twenty-foot equivalent units in January, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was down just under 1% from December as imports wound down after the holiday season, but up 2% from January 2009.
It was also the second month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year monthly declines.
One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.
February was estimated at 1.08 million TEU, the same as January but a 29% increase over unusually low numbers in February 2009, and March is forecast at 1.09 million TEU, up 13% from the previous year. April is forecast at 1.17 million TEU, up 19% as retailers begin to stock up for spring and summer; May at 1.21 million TEU, up 17%; June at 1.26 million TEU, up 25%; and July at 1.33 million TEU, up 20%.
The first half of 2010 is expected to total 6.9 million TEU, up 17% from last year’s 5.9 million TEU.
Imports for 2009 totaled 12.7 million TEU, down 17% from 2008’s 15.2 million TEU and the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003. First-half growth is down from the 25% increase forecast a month ago, but reflects statistical issues at West Coast ports rather than a change in retailers’ import intentions.
A perfect storm for shoplifters
Retailers are fortunate the majority of customers are honest and choose to pay for the items they need and want. However, even the most well intentioned shoppers can succumb to the allure of theft when their moral compass is exposed to the polarizing forces of a recessionary economy and a retail environment where the perceived risk of apprehension is low due to thinly staffed stores. As a result, retail theft characterized as amateur or opportunistic is on the rise, according to 78% of retailers responding to a survey conducted by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). While amateur and opportunistic thieves are more active, all types of theft have increased, with 74% of retailers reporting seeing an increase of stolen items found in online marketplaces, and 65% reporting increased theft by organized groups.
A rebound awaits in key categories
Target is the beneficiary of a perceived quality gap relative to Walmart, and that typically helps it in head-to-head comparisons where such categories as apparel and home are concerned. Unfortunately, consumer decision-making is seldom so linear, and Target has a slew of other retailers against whom it must compete, and recent sales results suggest it has work to do. Target has reported weak (flat or declining) results for its apparel and home categories and did so again in February. However, such companies as TJX, Ross and Kohl’s, which appeal to the same value-oriented shoppers as Target, produced solid gains. TJX said its February same-store sales increased 10%, Ross produced an 11% increase and Kohl’s was up 3.7%. Also producing gains were such competitors as Nordstrom, Macy’s and JCPenney, which serve customers squarely in the crosshairs of Target’s “expect more, pay less” value proposition. Macy’s reported a better-than-expected increase of 3.7%, and Nordstrom topped analysts’ views with a 10.3% increase. JCPenney’s same-store sales rose 1.2%, which was also better than expected.