News Column

Imported Holiday Goods on Their Way to Retailers

November 11, 2013

Pat Maio, The Orange County Register

trade balance
U.S. ports have essentially finished offloading foreign goods for the holiday shopping season (file photo)

Nov. 11--For some, the holidays are over. No shopping headaches, no crowds.

That's because the huge volume of imported containers handled by the supply chain of shippers, truckers, railroads and others through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles for the holidays has essentially ended, according to port and retail industry executives.

"For all practical purposes, the peak, or the big rush of cargo, is all over," said Bob Curry, president of California Cartage Co. LLC, a Long Beach-based trucking and warehousing company. "We are becoming really slow, which means that all the cargo for Christmas is in, except for a small fragment."

This movement of goods for the holidays runs over three months from August to October, though some movement began in late July this year, industry officials said.

For all ports in the United States, the 4.42 million cargo containers expected for those months combined is a 5.9 percent increase over last year and accounts for 25.6 percent of all retail imports for the entire year, according to estimates provided by the National Retail Federation, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.

In the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports complex, some of the holiday items have included clothes, shoes, cellphones, consumer electronics and other merchandise that goes on store shelves for the holidays.

After being unloaded in the ports, the containers are rushed to distribution centers across the western United States, where they're briefly held and then moved to stores such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Target and other big-box retailers.

At Pier A, just north of Terminal Island in the Port of Long Beach, mountains of containers were waiting for the move out last week. Several massive forklifts, called "top picks," rushed from one aisle to another moving containers around -- gently, after all, because some hold toys that'll end up under the Christmas tree. They were stacked five containers tall as far as the eye could see.

Samsung flat-screen TVs, Mattel Barbies, Hollister jeans and Vans shoes. They're all packaged inside, waiting to be pulled out for shoppers to buy on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year that often kicks off even earlier on Thanksgiving.

"It's a make or break time for retailers," said Jonathan Gold, vice president in charge of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, and who tracks port statistics nationwide.

A lot of the consumer merchandise in the containers from China and elsewhere ends up at distribution hubs in the Inland Empire.

Wal-Mart runs a cavernous distribution center in Mira Loma, near Riverside. Kohl's has one in San Bernardino, and Best Buy has one in Chino. Target has centers in Fontana, Rialto and Ontario.

This year, retailers are expecting an uptick in sales, which is good news for the ports complex in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Total container volumes at Long Beach hit a six-year high in August.

But, cargo import numbers don't correlate directly with sales because only the number of cargo containers is counted, not the value of the merchandise inside them.

Still, Gold forecasts retail sales this November and December to rise 3.9 percent to $602 billion. That's up from last year's 3.5 percent holiday season sales growth. The forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent.

However, "we are not back to pre-recession levels," said Gold of port volumes in Long Beach and Los Angeles. "This is not a surprise. This not a quick recovery. Consumer confidence hasn't returned. There are still some questions out there.

"There is still high unemployment."

Anthony Otto, president of Long Beach Container Terminal Inc., said container volumes handled through the company's terminal have ranged from flat to up 1 percent or 2 percent.

"Is it boom town? It's steady and improving," he said. "Now is the peak season, but we are not handling more volume this year than last."

Contact the writer: 562-243-5497 or pmaio@lbregister.com

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(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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Original headline: Holiday goods stream into the ports


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Source: (c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)


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