Container Imports Inch Up for the Holiday Season

August was the busiest month this year for container imports brought in through the country’s major ports, getting a jump on the holiday season.

Major U.S. ports saw active container terminals with 1.71 million 20-foot containers coming into the country, up 1.5 percent from August 2015, according to the monthly “Global Port Tracker” report, released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

In September, volume dipped to 1.64 million containers but was still slightly ahead from the same month last year with a 0.9 percent increase. October is expected to be the second busiest month of the year for container imports, which should total 1.65 million containers, up 6 percent from one year ago.

November and December won’t be as busy because most stores have most of their merchandise for the all-important holiday season. November is forecast to see 1.54 million containers come through the nation’s ports, up 3.9 percent from a year ago, and December will see 1.48 million containers, a 3.4 percent uptick over last year.

“November and December are the busiest time for holiday shopping, but this is the month for the behind-the-scenes supply-chain work that ensures shoppers will find what they want, where they want it, when they want it,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs at the National Retail Federation.

Cargo volume for 2016 is expected to total 18.6 million containers, up 2.1 percent from last year. At the same time container traffic was rising, retail inventories were decreasing slightly from some of their previous highs.

In July, the inventory-to-sales ratio was at 1.49 in July, the latest number available from the U.S. Census Bureau. That was down from 1.5 in June and from its peak of 1.52 in March. “The inventory-to-sales ratio, one of the best indicators of where the economy is going, is finally declining,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “It’s not down by much, but the key is that the sharp rise seen earlier this year appears to have come to an end.”