- U.S. ports are 4.9% busier than a year ago, thanks to the fact that retailers and suppliers are stocking up early for the holidays, the Wall Street Journal reported. The National Retail Federation estimates that 2017's peak season sales will likely increase 3.6% to 4% over 2016. Imports are already up by 5.4% since last year.
- Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau notes that retailers' inventory-to-sales ratio rose to 1.49 in August, its highest level within the past year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
- At the same time, the Association of American Railroads reports that U.S. railroads handled 1,080,444 containers and trailers in September, up 3.8% from September 2016.
A busy port is as complex as a stage with a thousand players.
While ports grow ever more technologically adept thanks to massive post-Panama ships and their resulting loads, congestion continues to cause disruption and confusion for workers, particularly when short on vital supplies such as shipping containers.
Shipping container shortages are rare, but when they occur, are extremely problematic. During the Hanjin debacle, chassis to support containers were in short supply, making a bad situation worse enough to inspire one enterprising lot owner to offer container storage in a vacant lot miles away from port. More than 1,500 containers are routinely lost at sea, causing environmental damage and millions in insurance claims. Now, a new container shortage has arisen in Iowa, as shippers recall containers to ports before they can be filled with corn, soybeans, or the many items manufactured there, such as tractor parts.
The irony is that in the rush to avoid a container shortage at ports, a shortage of produce and parts is occurring instead. And though a service attempting to align empty containers with goods to transport has appeared, the shortage has continued. It's precisely this kind of disorganization that plagues busy ports and the transporters with which they try to do business.