Port Traffic Expected To Improve This Fall

While the nation’s ports haven’t seen much cargo traffic lately, that should change around October, when retailers push to get last-minute merchandise in for the Holiday season.

According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report, commissioned by the National Retail Federation, cargo-container volumes at the nation’s ports were down in March, April and June from a year earlier. May was a different story, inching up 1.6 percent. June is forecast to see a 1.8 percent drop from the same month last year, and July will decline 0.6 percent, the report said.

“As the economy continues to slowly improve, retailers are stocking up for their most important sales season of the year,” said the NRF’s Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy. “Merchants have been very cautious so far this year, but our forecasts show that they plan to make up for it in the next few months.”

August should show a turnaround in port traffic, with cargo-container volumes expected to creep up 1.7 percent from last year to 1.45 million 20-foot containers. September should also be on the upswing with a 1.9 percent increase. By October, ports will be busy, with cargo-container volumes expected to jump 8.3 percent to 1.45 million containers. November will rise 6.7 percent to 1.37 million containers, and December should taper off to see a 3.5 percent increase from a year earlier with 1.34 million containers.

By the end of 2013, ports will have brought in 16.2 million containers, up 2.4 percent from the previous year.

“Trade at the ports continues to remain positive, confirming our view that the economy remains on a slow but steady course of recovery,” said Ben Hackett of Hackett Associates, which conducts the NRF report. “The question is whether importers are building up stock ahead of expected sales demand or in response to recently announced freight-rate increases.”