Port Traffic Up for Back-to-School Season

Import & Export

As of Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cargo volumes at the nation’s ports are seeing a healthy upswing as retailers start stocking their shelves for the Back-to-School season.

Incoming cargo-container traffic in May saw an 8.2 percent boost over the previous May, the last month for which there are after-the-fact figures, according to the monthly “Global Port Tracker” report, prepared for the National Retail Federation by Hackett Associates.

“U.S. consumer spending recorded its largest increase in nearly six years in May, suggesting that the level of confidence about the future has improved,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.

For June, cargo-container traffic is estimated to have seen a 5.5 percent jump over the previous year while July cargo volumes were expected to rise 7.3 percent and August traffic was predicted to inch up 5.5 percent over last year.

In September, when schools are back in session, cargo-container volumes are predicted to be up only 2.4 percent over September 2014.

At the end of last year and at the beginning of this year, cargo-container traffic at West Coast ports was greatly hampered by contract negotiations between longshore workers and their employers. The previous contract expired in July 2014.

At the same time, the sister ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were grappling with a shortage of chassis to move cargo containers off the docks and on to trucks and trains. There were huge backlogs of cargo containers that were taking as long as two months to be delivered to customers once the containers reached the ports.

In February, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and its employers, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, reached an agreement for a five-year contract. It was ratified in May.

“Now that West Coast ports have recovered from the congestion caused by the recently settled contract dispute, retailers are focused on the Back-to-School season to ensure that parents can find the supplies and clothing their children need for the fall,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

For the first half of 2015, incoming cargo-container volume is estimated to be at 8.8 million 20-foot containers, up 6.4 percent over last year.

The ports covered by the NRF report are Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Miami and Port Everglades, Fla.