US Ports to See Growth in Import Volumes, NRF Says

Import cargo volume at major US retail container ports is expected to grow toward the summer despite difficult comparisons with last year’s patterns, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Comparisons are still complicated because of last year’s situation at the West Coast ports but should clear up in the second half of the year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.

“Year-over-year numbers are skewed but on a monthly basis imports are building normally as the back-to-school season approaches.”

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.5 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEUs) in January, representing a rise of 4.4 percent compared to December numbers and 21.4 percent from the figures seen in January 2015, the month before a new contract with dockworkers was signed to end a near-shutdown at West Coast ports.

NRF said that February was estimated at 1.4 million TEUs, up 17.1 percent from the same month in 2015, while March is forecast at 1.35 million TEUs, down 22.2 percent compared to the same period in 2015.

The first half of 2016 is expected to total 8.8 million TEUs, down 0.2 percent from the corresponding period a year earlier.

With cargo volume down so far this year, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said recent decisions by major shipping lines to add new super-large capacity vessels to routes between Asia and the U.S. West Coast are likely to bring lower shipping rates at the risk of “chaos” in the balance between supply and demand.

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