Laden U.S. containerized imports should slightly rise over the second half of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015 as retailers’ stocking for the back-to-school season provides a short-lived bump to container volumes before dipping and then building again in the late fall for the holiday shopping season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker.
Inbound laden container traffic will increase by 0.5 percent year-over-year during the next six months, reflecting a return to normal trends after the 2014 and 2015 West Coast port crisis shook up normal import flows. The Global Port Tracker, which is compiled for the National Retail Federation by Hackett Associates, expects imports to rise 1.4 percent year-over-year this month before declining in August and September by 2 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.
“Trade is holding on to a small margin of growth, but this growth comes in the face of some adverse statistics as well as positive ones,” Hackett said. “The good news is that retail sales have remained positive as the consumer continues to cautiously spend. The hope is that this spending will continue.”
The Global Port Tracker said laden import container volumes on a year-over-year basis will increase 4.4 percent in October and 2.8 percent in November. Imports of loaded containers grew 1.1 percent year-over-year in May. The May figure was up 12.8 percent from the prior month, the report said.
Year-over-year comparisons are difficult, however, because numbers in the first half of 2015 were affected by the slowdown at West Coast ports, as some container shipments were delayed before volumes increased once the slowdown ended, the NRF said.
In 2016, Global Port Tracker has been noticeably less bullish in its import projections than Mario Moreno, IHS Markit chief economist, who forecasts U.S. containerized imports this year will rise 5.7 percent, to 20.9 million TEUs, while exports will increase 1.3 percent, to 11.6 million TEUs. Indeed, the Port of Long Beach on Tuesday released actual laden import numbers for June, and the second-largest U.S. port reported an increase of 5.5 percent from June 2015.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which tracks all West Coast ports, reported that in the first five months of 2016, laden import container volume increased 2.8 percent compared with the same period in 2015. Global Port Tracker has total U.S. containerized imports increasing 1.5 percent compared with the first five months of 2015. This could indicate that West Coast ports this year are attracting back market share they lost last year to East Coast ports.
Laden import TEUs through West Coast ports increased by 2 percent in May, compared with the same month in 2015, to 939,858 TEUs, according to PIERS, a sister product of JOC.com within IHS Markit. The volume of laden container imports through East Coast ports fell by 2 percent to 755,404 TEUs and laden import traffic at Gulf ports fell by 13 percent year-over-year to 100,023 TEUs.