Retail imports spike as ILWU deadline approaches
Imports are expected to total 1.46 million TEU in June, up 7.5 percent from June 2013, at major U.S. container ports as retailers bring "unusually high" volumes into the country early to avoid any potential labor disruptions when the West Coast dockworkers contract expires at the end of June, according to the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
Negotiators from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association have been meeting regularly since May 12 to reach a new contract.
“We don’t want to see disruptions at the ports, but retailers are making sure they are prepared in case that happens,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.
NRF has urged both sides to avoid any disruptions that could affect the flow of back-to-school or holiday merchandise.
West Coast ports handle more than two-thirds of U.S. retail container cargo, including the bulk of cargo from Asia. A lockout of ILWU members in the fall of 2002 closed ports for 10 days and created a months-long backlog to be cleared.
In its monthly "Global Port Tracker" report, the groups said domestic ports handled 1.43 million TEU in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. The number was up 9.9 percent from March and 10.3 percent from April 2013. Port Tracker also estimated that 1.47 million TEU were imported in May, up 5.8 percent from May 2013. Port Tracker said volumes for May and June are results not normally seen until later in the summer or fall. July is forecast at 1.51 million TEU, up 4.4 percent from last year. The groups expect August to bring 1.52 million TEU, up 1.9 percent. September will come in at 1.45 million TEU, up 0.8 percent, with October at 1.48 million TEU, up 3.4 percent.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said inventory levels were up earlier in the year, as a severe winter kept shoppers at home and retailers began stocking up in advance of the port negotiations.
"The weather is behind us, and inventories are coming down as the consumer ventures out, and West Coast dockworkers and management remain at the bargaining table,” Hackett said. “The real question is how long can the economic expansion continue?”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Houston.