U.S. Port Traffic to be Uneven for Back-to-School and Holiday

The nation’s ports are expected to see up-and-down import cargo volumes for the rest of the year as retailers gear up for Back-to-School and Holiday sales.

“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,” said Ben Hackett, whose Hackett Associates prepares the monthly “Global Port Tracker” report for the National Retail Federation.

In May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, major U.S. ports handled 1.63 million 20-foot cargo containers from overseas ports. That was a 1.1 percent increase from May 2015.

For June, it was estimated that ports would process 1.56 million containers, down 0.5 percent from last year. July was expected to be better with 1.64 million containers coming through the ports, up 1.4 percent from last year as retailers pushed to get Back-to-School items on the shelves.

August and September were forecast to see volume declines. August was predicted to see 1.65 million containers arriving at the ports, down 2 percent from last year, and September was forecast to see 1.58 million containers coming through, down 2.6 percent from last year.

October and November will see a wave of containers coming in for the holiday season. For October, 1.62 million containers were anticipated to be arriving at U.S. ports, up 4.4 percent, and November was expected to have 1.52 million containers coming through the ports, up 2.8 percent over last year.

Cargo volumes during the first half of 2016 were predicted to be up 1.5 percent over last year, reaching 8.99 million containers. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million cargo containers arriving at U.S. ports, up 5.4 percent over 2014.

“After a year of difficult comparisons in the wake of the West Coast ports slowdown [early last year during longshore worker contract negotiations], we’re finally starting to see normal trends,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Some numbers are still down from last year, but the pattern of building up toward the big seasons has returned.”