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Rail News: Intermodal

Ports busy as retailers gear up for the holidays


The holiday season has arrived at the nation's major retail container ports, where import cargo volume is expected to increase 3.6 percent this month compared with August 2014, according to the Global Port Tracker report released last week by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

"Consumers might be out buying back-to-school supplies, but toys and sweaters are starting to show up on the docks," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a press release. "There are still some lingering congestion issues, but retailers are working with their supply chain partners to make sure all of that merchandise flows smoothly to store shelves."

Ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.57 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in June, down 2.5 percent compared with May but up 6.2 percent compared with June 2014.

July was estimated at 1.59 million TEUs, up 6 percent from 2014; August is forecast at 1.57 million TEUs, up 3.6 percent; September at 1.59 million TEUs, down 0.1 percent; October at 1.58 million TEUs, up 1.2 percent; November at 1.45 million TEUs, up 4.5 percent, and December at 1.4 million TEUs, down 2.8 percent.

Those numbers would bring 2015 to a total of 18 million TEUs, a 4.2 percent increase compared with 2014, NRF officials said. For the first six months of 2015, TEUs rose 6.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

Ocean carriers are using more large-capacity ships this year, which means some retailers are paying less to transport their merchandise. However, those savings could be short-lived, as some lines have canceled voyages to counteract the trend, according to Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett.

"We are seeing complete chaos on the high seas in terms of the amount of capacity available and the level of spot freight rates," Hackett said. "One has to wonder why carriers cannot match supply to demand. The end result will likely be a highly volatile situation of freight rates moving up and down."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/11/2015