Washington–Import volume at U.S. major retail container ports grew 9.1% this month compared to last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. While some port workers are part of the 800,000 government workers affected by the U.S. government shutdown, the rise in imports reflect merchandise ordered months before the shutdown as retailers planned for the holiday season.
“With the holidays nearly here, retailers are making sure their shelves are well-stocked,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Cargo is continuing to move through the ports but the government shutdown has left some agencies short-handed, so NRF will monitor the situation closely as the holidays approach.”
Impact of U.S. Government Shutdown?
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has furloughed 6,000 workers because of the government shutdown that began last week, but Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said the impact at the docks should be “minimal” since ports will remain open, with inspectors continuing to work and process cargo. But other government agencies that have a role in clearing cargo at the ports have not remained as staffed as CBP, leaving retailers cautious, Gold said.
The forecast comes as NRF is predicting that this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9% over last year. (Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them.)
August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.42 million cargo containers expected for those months combined is a 5.9% increase over last year and accounts for 25.6% of all retail imports for the entire year.
Despite the current increases, container traffic growth overall has been slow this year, and the reduced demand for shipping capacity has ocean carriers cutting the number of vessels on the water and taking other steps, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.
“The supply-and-demand balance dictates pricing,” Hackett said. “This has left the carriers to find ways to cut costs as a means to better financial results. Using larger ships is one solution, and larger alliances as a means to managing capacity is another.
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. www.nrf.com/PortTracker