Retail cargo traffic declines

WASHINGTON — A report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said that import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports has started to decline for the fall, and November is forecast at 1.9% below the same month last year.

The decrease is attributed to the fact that most retailers already have their holiday season merchandise either on their shelves or en route to their stores. 

“As always, retailers are being very strategic with their supply chains,” said Jonathan Gold, VP supply chain and customs policy for the NRF. “Although sales are expected to be in line with the 10-year average, retailers are keeping inventory levels extremely lean and filling their stores wall-to-wall with discounts and promotions. Unlike in 2008, when the financial crisis caught everyone off-guard, retailers have a strong understanding of the consumer mind-set this Christmas.” 

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.33 million twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in September, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 0.4% from August and made September the busiest month of the year as retailers rushed to stock stores for the holidays, but was down 0.6% from September 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. 

The total for 2011 is forecast at 14.76 million TEU, just slightly above the 2010 total of 14.75 million TEU.

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.