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U.S. Importers hedge against longshoremen

WASHINGTON, DC: While negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union continue, a report by the U.S. National Retail Federation (NRF) says its members are maintaining imports at near-record levels.

The NRF's Global Port Tracker says volumes are forecast to reach 1.47 million TEUs in September - down from the all-time high of 1.53 million in August - as retailers continue to import early to avoid the possibility of any labor dispute. The NRF says for the past five years September port traffic has averaged 1.42 million TEUs.

Port-of-Seattle"The negotiations have made progress and retailers have been stocking up, but there's still cargo that needs to arrive before the holiday season kicks off," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy: "Retailers are making sure that consumer demand during the holidays will be met."

The union contract expired on July 1 - prompting concerns about potential disruption that could affect back-to-school or holiday merchandise. While a tentative agreement on health benefits was announced in August, the two sides continue to negotiate as the longshoremen remain at work.

The NRF is forecasting October port traffic at 1.51 million TEUs, up 5.5 percent; November at 1.39 million, up 3.8 percent; and December at 1.37 million, up 4.1 percent. If correct, the ports' total for 2014 will be 17.1 million TEUs, an increase of 5.3 percent over last year. The January 2015 figure is expected to be 1.43 million TEU, up 3.8 percent from the same month this year.

The Global Port Tracker report, which is produced for the NRF by consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle (right) and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

The NRF, which represents retailers in 46 countries, says its members support one in four U.S. jobs and contribute US$2.5 trillion to the country's annual GDP.

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