Steady Increase in Merchandise Arriving at U.S. Ports for the Holidays

As the holiday season approaches, shipping import volumes at the nation’s leading ports are ramping up rapidly.

In October, cargo-container volumes rose 7.5 percent over last year, according to the “Global Port Tracker” report, recently released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

November is expected to see a 4.4 percent increase in volume over last year while December should be up nearly equally at 4.5 percent.

“Retailers are importing more during the holidays this year than last year, and that can only mean one thing—they expect to sell more,” said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Most of the holiday merchandise is already here, but retailers are still restocking to be sure shoppers will have a broad and deep selection as they hit the stores over the next several weeks.”

The National Retail Federation is forecasting that U.S. stores will have a $655.8 billion holiday season, which is 3.6 percent above last year.

Despite the recent ramp-up in cargo volumes, imports this year are expected to be only 2.2 percent higher than last year. Ben Hackett, head of Hackett Associates, noted that imports are not growing as fast as in past years.

“Despite all the good economic news recently, we are faced with imports growing only about 2 percent this year,” he said. “Whether this is merely part of the aftermath of the Hanjin bankruptcy or a sign of weakening demand is not yet clear. Unless there is a major disruption, however, growth should be modest but sustained during the first half of 2017.”

Cargo-container volumes for 2016 are expected to total 18.6 million 20-foot containers. Total volume for 2015 was 18.2 million containers.

During the recession, cargo volumes plummeted to 12.6 million containers in 2009 and have been climbing ever since then.

At the Port of Los Angeles, total cargo volumes for the first nine months of 2016 were up 4 percent to 6.37 million containers, which include imports, exports and empties.

At the Port of Long Beach, total cargo volumes through September this year were down 4.6 percent to 5.1 million containers. Hanjin Shipping, which declared bankruptcy in South Korea on Aug. 31, unloads most of its cargo shipped to Southern California at the Port of Long Beach, where it is a majority owner of Total Terminals International.