If activity at the country’s deep-water ports is any indication, Santa’s sleigh is going to be loaded down this year, delighting kids of all ages as well as truck drivers, dockworkers, container shipping interests and, most of all, retailers — many of whom live and die by seasonal holiday sales.
Imports set a second all-time monthly record high this summer as retailers brought in merchandise for the busy holiday season, with imports continuing to come in at unusually high levels this month, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released this week by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“When imports break records two months in a row, it’s hard to see that as anything other than a good sign about what retailers expect in consumer demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain.
Consumers are buying more, Gold said, and the supply chain is working hard to keep up.
“We hope this is a sign of a strong holiday season for retailers, shoppers and our nation’s economy.”
The 11 major deep-water ports covered by the tracker – including Savannah’s Garden City Terminal — handled 1.8 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units, or TEUs, in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available.
That volume was the highest recorded since NRF began tracking imports in 2000, topping the previous record of 1.78 million TEUs set just one month earlier in July. Before that, the record had been 1.73 million TEUs in March 2015
A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
September was estimated at 1.65 million TEUs, up 3.7 percent from last year, and October is forecast at 1.72 million TEUs, up 2.8 percent.
While not a record, the October number would be one of only six times in the report’s history that any month has hit 1.7 million TEUs or higher.
Savannah’s 2017 growth tracks with the trend – imports have been up over 2016 for every month from January to August, with September projected to be as good, if not better.
At Garden City Terminal, August’s 164,496 loaded import containers set an all-time record for GPA.
The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting that 2017 retail sales will grow between 3.2 percent and 3.8 percent over 2016 and that this year’s holiday sales will be up between 3.6 percent and 4 percent.
While cargo volume doesn’t correlate directly with sales — only the number of containers is counted, not the value of the cargo inside – but it nonetheless provides a barometer of retailers’ expectations.
“The volume of containers imported through August continues to grow and we expect this to continue through October before a slack period arrives as the holiday season inventory buildup comes to an end,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.
The Global Port Tracker, which Hackett’s consulting firm produces for NRF, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads (Virginia), Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.
Mary Carr Mayle writes about ports, logistics and the maritime community in PortSide, which appears every other Friday in the Savannah Morning News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.