WASHINGTON — September 19, 2011 — Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports
is beginning to see cautious increases over last year again, ending a summer-long downturn as
retailers prepare for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report
released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“With the most crucial spending period of the year just weeks away, retailers have made
careful decisions on the amount of merchandise they need to properly stock their stores during the
holidays,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “This year,
retailers have the luxury of importing holiday goods later than last year, which better ensures
their inventory levels will accurately meet consumer demand.”
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units
in July, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 6 percent from June but down
4 percent from July 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. July was the
second month in a row to show a year-over-year decline, and August was flat compared with last
year, at an estimated 1.42 million TEU. Rather than indicating an economic downturn, however, the
numbers are a skewed comparison against higher-than-normal numbers last summer, when fears of
shortages in shipping capacity caused many retailers to bring holiday merchandise into the country
earlier than usual. Global Port Tracker counts only the number of cargo containers imported, not
the value of their contents, so cargo volume does not directly correlate with retail sales.
Year-over-year growth is beginning to resume in September, which is forecast to be up 11.8
percent from September 2010 at 1.5 million TEU. October is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 9.5
percent; November at 1.33 million TEU, up 8 percent; and December at 1.2 million TEU, up 4.5
percent. January 2012 is forecast at 1.19 million TEU, down 1 percent from January 2011.
The total for 2011 is forecast at 15.4 million TEU, up 4.3 percent from 2010. Imports during
2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16 percent increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.
Given the seasonal nature of cargo volume and continuing uncertainties about the economy,
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett was cautious about cargo volume in 2012.
“We should not be lulled into too much confidence by the relatively strong import volumes of
August and September,” Hackett said. “These are linked to the low levels of inventory that needed
to be raised to meet the return-to-school and post-Thanksgiving sales. The third quarter will be
positive for the ocean carriers and retailers but that will turn into negative growth for the next
two to three quarters thereafter.”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates,
covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast;
New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the
Gulf Coast. The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available at
www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971.
Subscription information for non-members can be found at
As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF’s
global membership includes retailers of all sizes, formats and channels of distribution as well as
chain restaurants and industry partners from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad.
In the United States, NRF represents an industry that includes more than 3.6 million establishments
and which directly and indirectly accounts for 42 million jobs — one in four U.S. jobs. The total
U.S. GDP impact of retail is $2.5 trillion annually, and retail is a daily barometer of the health
of the nation’s economy.
Hackett Associates provides expert consulting, research and advisory services to the
international maritime industry, government agencies and international institutions.
Posted on September 20, 2011
Source: National Retail Federation