Washington—While it doesn’t account for actual sales at retail, import volume at the country’s major retail container ports is expected to grow 1.8% this month over December 2012, and the year should end with an increase of 2.3% over 2012, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
“Imports have seen good growth over last year and retailers are well-stocked as the holiday season continues,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Holiday merchandise has made it from the ships to the shelves and the rest is up to the shoppers.”
Indicative of Sales Expectations?
The cargo numbers come as NRF forecast that this year’s holiday sales will grow 3.9% percent over last year to a total of $602.1 billion. Cargo import figures do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside them, but are an indicator of retailers’ sales expectations.
August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country. The 4.35 million cargo containers handled during those months combined represented a 4.3% increase over last year and accounted for 26.8% of all retail imports for the entire year.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 0.4% from September as the peak shipping cycle wound down but up 6.4% from October 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
November was estimated at 1.33 million TEU, up 3.6% from last year. December is forecast at 1.31 million TEU, up 1.8% from last year. January 2014 is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, up 3.3% from January 2013; February at 1.18 million TEU, down 7.8% from last year; March at 1.32 million TEU, up 15.9%; and April at 1.38 million TEU, up 6.6%.
The total for 2013 is forecast at 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3% from 2012’s 15.8 million TEU. The first six months of 2013 totaled 7.8 million TEU, up 1.2% from the first half of 2012.
Inventory-to-Sales Ratio ‘Stubbornly High’
“The U.S. economy appears to have found a growth spurt,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, citing estimated third-quarter gross domestic product growth of 3.6% “The paradox is that consumer spending remains very cautious and does not come anywhere near the expansion of GDP. The reason is the increasing levels of inventory. Despite back-to-school sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and regular sales, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains stubbornly high. Hopefully, November and December numbers will show a catch-up that will help reduce the inventories.”
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.globalporttracker.com.