November import TEUs reached 1,639,165, for a 5% gain compared with November 2014, Datamyne’s current US import bill-of-lading data shows.
This reverses the downward trend in year-over-year comparisons in October, when the 1,731,930 TEUs (20-foot-equivalent units) tallied represented a -1% drop from TEUs the same month a year ago.
However, November continued a month-to-month slide in import volumes that began in September: the bill-of-lading data shows November TEUs were down -5% from October, which saw TEUs fall -3% from the previous month. September TEUs dropped -4% from August, which turned out to lead the year in import volumes with 1,858,830 TEUs.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal saw bad news for the economy in the slowdown at the three busiest US ports – Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York-New Jersey.
US import TEUs are just one of this season’s closely-watched indicators. Another is the US Census Bureau inventory-to-sales ratio (1.38 in September), which has persistently indicated inventories rising faster than sales this year. Some see a warning in the ratio hitting heights not seen since 2001.
The National Retail Foundation began 2015 forecasting a 4.1% increase in retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants). The retail trade association trimmed its forecast to 3.5% in July but, this month, bumped it up to 3.7% – slightly higher than 2014’s 3.5% growth in retail sales.
The connection between US import volumes and retail sales is indirect. But import volumes give some indication of retailers’ expectations (or hopes) for sales.
Certainly, the inventory build-up seems to have put a brake on US imports through the traditional peak shipping season – roughly September through October, the run-up to the winter holiday shopping season. So, while an easing in November import TEUs would be typical, US import TEUs peaking in August is decidedly not.
The missing peak season is being felt across the transport sector, from ocean-going carriers, through to railroads and trucking companies. Resulting losses will likely add to the pressure to consolidate. Closely watched now: The coming holiday season’s sales – and whether they will make enough of dent in those inventories to boost imports.