Imports Steady as Back-to-School Season Approaches

U.S. cargo-container imports for the first half of this year are expected to be nearly flat over last year as the economy inches along.

The number of cargo containers being brought in through the nation’s ports is expected to be down about .02 percent for the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last year as consumers spend money on other things such as restaurant visits and weekend outings.

Despite the lull in activity, cargo shipments into the country on a month-by-month basis were up sharply for the first three months of this year because major port congestion on the West Coast early last year kept many containers stuck on ships waiting for empty berths, according to the “Global Port Tracker” report issued by the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C.

“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,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

Cargo-container imports in January jumped to 1.5 million containers, which was up 21.4 percent compared to unusually low figures for January 2015. Cargo-container traffic in February saw a dramatic 17.1 percent spike compared to the previous year, but March volumes were expected to nosedive 22.2 percent, the month when the port congestion problem started to be resolved last year.

In the next few months, cargo-container imports will be weak. They are forecast to be down 1.8 percent in April, down 3.4 percent in May and down 1.6 percent in June.