Waves of imports streamed through U.S. seaports in September as retailers stocked up inventories ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
In recent third-quarter earnings reports, appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corp., toy maker Hasbro Inc. and footwear maker Skechers USA Inc. reported boosts to their inventories, signaling confidence in American consumers heading into a critical selling period. Whirlpool’s stocks were up 4.3% to $3.3 billion from last year’s third quarter, Hasbro’s inventories rose 3.5% to $629 million and Skechers holdings grew 33% to $698 million.
“We’re trying to get everything as early as we can to be ready for the holiday season and going forward,” Skechers Chief Operating Officer David Weinberg said in a conference call on the company’s earnings.
Nationwide in August, the industrywide inventory-to-sales ratio for retailers rose to 1.49, its highest level in 12 months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, suggesting store owners and their suppliers are stocking up for a strong push by the holidays. The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales this year will grow 3.6% to 4% over last year.
That has led to a rush of activity at U.S. seaports, where much of the retail inventory arrives in container ships.
Waterborne import shipments rose 4.9% in September over the same period last year, according to trade research firm Panjiva. In a research note, September import shipments from China and Hong Kong rose 8.2% year over year, the firm said.
At Southern California’s ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle most U.S. containerized trade with China, dock workers last month handled 754,968 containers of imports, measured in 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a shipping-industry measure of volume. That was 12.4% more than in September 2016. Imports were up 9.5% year-over-year at the Port of Virginia to 109,716 TEUs in September, and the Georgia Ports Authority, which includes the Port of Savannah, reported imports of 166,885 TEUs in September, up nearly 14% from last year.
U.S. railroads handled 1,080,444 containers and trailers in September, up 3.8% from the same month last year, according to the Association of American Railroads.
According to the latest Global Port Tracker report, released monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates LLC, imports are on track for a record-setting year in 2017, beating last year’s total volumes by 5.4%. Major U.S. ports handled 1.8 million TEUs of imports in August, the most in a month in the 17 years since the retail group has issued the report.