Retail Import Growth Expected to Slow Significantly This Summer

container_shipWashington–Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 3.3% in May over the same month last year but growth could trickle to a standstill by the end of the summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“The weak cargo increases expected over the next few months are consistent with other signs that the economy is slowly improving but show that retailers remain cautious, especially when it comes to stocking their inventories,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “We’re looking at barely 1% of year-over-year growth through the early summer, and August and September are expected to be basically flat even though they’re supposed to be two of the busiest months of the years.”

“With consumer confidence low, employment struggling to recover, and less money in shoppers’ pockets because of the payroll tax hike, we need to see action from Washington that will provide some fiscal certainty for families and businesses alike,” Gold said.

Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they 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.

Container Imports Barely Higher Than 2012

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.14 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 10.9% from February and 8.6% from March 2012. (One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.)

April was estimated at 1.29 million TEU, down 1.4% from a year ago. May is forecast at 1.42 million TEU, up 3.3% from last year; June at 1.4 million TEU, up 1.4%; July at 1.43 million TEU, also up 1.4%; August at 1.43 million TEU, up 0.1%, and September at 1.41 million TEU, unchanged from last year.

The first six months of 2013 are expected to total 7.8 million TEU, up 2% from the first half of 2012. The total for 2012 was 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9% from 2011.

“Despite the Fed pumping liquidity into the market, consumer confidence still has not turned the corner,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We need to see the economy strengthen in the coming quarters before we can begin to see the threat of a further economic downturn dissipating. Trade will remain at low growth levels until we reach this stage.”

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. The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971. Subscription information for non-members can be found at www.globalportracker.com.

 

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