Retail Imports Expected to Rise 4.8% This Month

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container_shipWashington—While retailers conduct their final tallies of their holiday business, the latest figures on import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports shows imports should grow nearly 5%, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. Estimates show 2013 up 2.8% over 2012.

“Retailers are still assessing the holiday season, but they’re also looking ahead to see what will happen in the new year,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for NRF’s supply chain and customs policy. “Based on these early numbers, 2014 looks like it should be off to a good start.”

2014 Off to a Strong Start

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.37 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU)  in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.3% from October as imports for the holiday season wound down but up 6.5% from November 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

December was estimated at 1.35 million TEU, up 5% from 2012. If that estimate holds true once final numbers become available, 2013 will have totaled 16.3 million TEU, up 2.8% over 2012’s 15.8 billion TEU. That compares with 3.4% growth in 2012 over 2011.

The cargo numbers come as retailers are waiting to see final figures for 2013 holiday season sales, which NRF predicted would grow 3.9% to $602.1 billion. Imports during August, September and October, the months when most of the holiday season’s merchandise is brought into the country, totaled 4.35 million TEU, up 4.3% increase over 2012. Cargo figures do not correlate directly with sales because they count only the number of cargo containers, not the value of the merchandise inside, but are an indicator of retailers’ sales expectations.

January 2014 is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, up 4.8% from January 2013; February at 1.18 million TEU, down 7.5% from last year; March at 1.32 million TEU, up 15.9%; April at 1.4 million TEU, up 7.7%; and May at 1.46 million TEU, up 4.6T.

“The new year looks to be stronger than the outgoing one, with better-than-expected GDP figures, lower unemployment rates and continued low inflation,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Expectations of a stronger dollar will also help to increase consumer confidence as import prices continue to fall.”

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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