VOLUMES through big US container ports are slowing as Christmas shipping moves from wholesale to retail, according to Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
"Retailers instituted costly contingency plans early on to ensure that holiday merchandise would be on the shelves or sitting in a warehouse ready to go," said NRF vice president Jonathan Gold.
"However, we are still hearing retailers are experiencing delays at west coast ports, and that they are also looking ahead to the spring season," he said.
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, who does the survey research, warned this year's west coast congestion made worse by labour trouble, has prompted shippers to import cargo through east coast ports instead.
"The question is whether cargo currently being diverted to the east coast will shift back to the west coast once congestion ends or are we experiencing a longer-term shift?" Mr Hackett said. "Time will tell."
Import volume at US ports covered by Global Port Tracker is expected to total 1.37 million TEU this month as the holiday shipping cycle winds down.
Imports set an all-time record of 1.59 million TEU in September as retailers rushed to bring merchandise into the country ahead of any disruption on the docks.
The 12 ports surveyed handled 1.56 million TEU in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down two per cent from September, but up 8.5 per cent from October 2013 as the economy continued to grow.
November was estimated at 1.41 million TEU, up 4.8 per cent from last year, and December is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, up 3.8 per cent.
That would bring the year's total to 17.2 million TEU, a 6.2 per cent year-on-year increase. Imports in 2012 totalled 15.8 million TEU. The first half of 2014 totalled 8.3 million TEU, up seven per cent year on year.
January 2015 is forecast at 1.41 million TEU, up 2.5 per cent from January 2014, February at 1.34 million TEU, up eight per cent from last year, March at 1.33 million TEU, up 2.2 per cent, and April at 1.46 million TEU, up 2.1 per cent.
The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1 per cent holiday season sales growth and 3.6 per cent growth for 2014 overall.
The survey covers Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York-New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Houston.
Source : HKSG.