"The nation's improving economy has been reflected in the amount of merchandise imported by retailers this year," says NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, Jonathan Gold. "We haven't fully recovered from the recession, and we still need more job creation to get consumer confidence back where it should be. But, import levels have seen solid increases throughout the year and we expect that to continue in 2011. Cargo volume doesn't translate directly to sales, but these trends are certainly in line with what we've experienced with monthly retail sales and this year's holiday season."
U.S. ports handled 1.34 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in October, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was unchanged from September but up 13 percent from October 2009. It was the 11th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
Volumes Up Across the Board
* November was estimated at 1.25 million TEU, a 15 percent increase over last year.
* December is forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 9 percent from last year.
* January 2011 is forecast at 1.16 million TEU, up 8 percent from January 2010. * * February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.1 million TEU, up 10 percent from last year.
* March is forecast at 1.14 million TEU, up 6 percent.
* April is forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 4 percent.
The first half of 2010 totaled 6.9 million TEU, up 17 percent from the same period last year. The full year is forecast at 14.6 million TEU, which would be up 17 percent from the 12.7 million TEU seen in 2009 -- the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003. The 2010 number remains below the 15.2 million TEU seen in 2008 and the peak of 16.5 million TEU seen in 2007.
NRF says it is revising its forecast for sales during the November-December holiday season to grow 3.3 percent over last year, up from the 2.3 percent forecast issued earlier. The improved outlook comes after a strong start to the holiday season, and is based on a variety of economic factors including stock market gains, recent income growth and savings built up during the recession that are all giving consumers the capacity to spend.
As volume increases in 2011, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said retailers could see higher costs from "slow steaming," a practice of operating ships more slowly instituted by ocean carriers for both environmental and economic reasons.
"Shippers have not benefited from slow steaming," Hackett said. "The increased round-trip voyage time has a direct impact on the time cost of goods. As a result, costs have gone up along the whole supply chain with increased inventory and transportation costs."
Global Port Tracker is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates. It covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah 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.
National Retail Federation