Zepol's Blog of U.S. Imports and Exports

Holiday Imports Grow in 2015 | Signals Busier Shopping Season

Just like the evergreens at a Christmas tree farm, holiday imports are growing this season. That's right, they are big and ready to be chopped… I mean shopped. Compared to 2014, this year’s seasonal Santa surplus is up 6 percent (July-September) and could grow even higher through October.

This August alone, U.S. importers brought in 1.86 million TEUs (twenty-foot containers), 9 percent higher than August of 2014. Ho, Ho, holy cow! Retailers seem to be gearing up for what could be a mega shopping season. The graph below shows monthly imports in 2014 vs. 2015. Notice the increase throughout the holiday import months.

Holiday imports 2015 increase graph

Generally when imports grow year-over-year, between July and October, stores are predicting a higher consumption of goods, or presents. The strong and upward U.S. dollar and a sinking unemployment rate may be helping, or certainly isn't hurting, this year's hustle and bustle. Another factor could be the West Coast port strike and slowdowns that occurred in late 2014 and early 2015. Importers may be making up for setbacks from a slower start this year.

U.S. holiday imports were highest during the month of July back in 2012 and 2013 but shifted to October in 2014. This year looks like August could take the cake, though an October spike still isn’t out of the question.

Most holiday imports arrive at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York/Newark. Los Angeles handled about 20 percent of U.S. imports between July and September, which is down 2 percent from 2014. Although its sister port, Long Beach, imported a consistent 18 percent of holiday imports again this year. The port of New York/Newark increased its market share of imports by a full percentage this year, with a 16 percent share of seasonal imports.

Below is a table of total TEU imports for 2014 vs. 2015 and the % change year-over-year.
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sept Total (Mil.)
2015 1,389,977 1,396,133 1,854,557 1,654,063 1,716,116 1,794,788 1,801,168 1,862,493 1,784,713 15.3
2014 1,595,985 1,329,834 1,488,249 1,618,827 1,625,292 1,661,459 1,713,293 1,707,424 1,739,202 14.5
Change Yr/Yr -13% 5% 25% 2% 6% 8% 5% 9% 3% 5%

Do you have insights on this year's holiday shopping season?
We'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.

U.S. Import Volume from China Skyrockets in August

US import volume China stats image 2015
Although China’s economy has slowed, its exports to the United States have steadily increased in volume. U.S. imports from China reached the highest volume in one month ever in August. TEUs (twenty-foot containers) from China increased 13 percent compared to August of 2014 and totaled nearly 918,000 TEUs. This accounted for 49 percent of all U.S. imports in the month of August.

With the reports of exports declining from China by total value, Zepol expected to find a similar drop in volume for August, but that was not the case. China’s decision to devalue its currency last month has perhaps had an immediate impact on its volume of exports, especially to the United States. But will the surge in monthly imports last?

Compared to 2014, the annual volume of imports from China is still up 5 percent YTD (Jan-Sept 2, 2015). This is 1 percent less than the total growth from 2013 to 2014, which had a 6 percent climb in TEUs, but identical to the 5 percent increase from 2012 to 2013.

Though Chinese exports to the United States are up, some U.S. ports have actually seen a decline in imports from China; including the second-largest port in the nation, Long Beach, which has imported 5 percent less from China YTD vs. 2014 YTD.

So where is the increase in Chinese exports headed? The South and East Coasts, believe it or not! The port of Savannah has increased imports from China this year by 33 percent and the port New York/Newark has increased in Chinese imports from by 16 percent.

What's a Consignee?

The modern definition of consignee is the company or person on a shipping label or bill of lading that receives a shipment. The consignee is often the entity that is in charge of ordering and purchasing the good and many times is interchangeable with the buyer. See an example of a consignee on the shipment document below.

Consignee on a bill of lading image

Where does the term consignee come from?

The word consignee is Latin in origin from the 1700’s and originally meant to sign, mark with an ‘x,’ or with a seal.

Nowadays, consignee is mainly used in the transportation and international trade industries, where it apparently never went out of style. Importing companies who purchase goods from a foreign company mark themselves as the consignee of the goods they order. Click Here to view a list of U.S. importing consignees in Portland, Oregon.

To define consignee in a simpler way, think of ordering a blender online. The blender is sent to you in a package through a mail service with an address label. When you receive the package, you see that the label is addressed to you, you ‘sign’ for it, and pay for it. This makes you the consignee.

How do you pronounce consignee?

Phonetically consignee is pronounced: kon-sahy-nee, with accent on the ‘ee.’

What’s the difference between consignee and consignor?

Consignee can refer to a person or party that receives/orders a shipment, but consignor refers to a specific person that received it. i.e. Ralph Thomas, was the consignor, but Target was listed on the shipment as the consignee.

Why is the consignee listed as a transportation company?

A consignee can also be a third party company that is in charge of receiving a shipment on behalf of another company. These are called third party logistics companies (3PLs). 3PLs are hired to manage transportation services by many organizations and are often written as the consignee, which deems them responsible for the shipment.

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Will Explosions at the Port of Tianjin Affect U.S. Trade?

Several intense chemical explosions shook the port city of Tianjin, China on the evening of August 12th, according to Reuters, which has killed 50 people and injured 700. The blasts ripped apart port buildings and shipping containers, including the surrounding warehouses and apartments. With dangerous toxic chemical waste among the wreckage it may mean a long cleanup process. This has many wondering how the flow of goods from the region will be affected by the disaster.

Tianjin is the 10th-largest port in the world and is responsible for a significant amount of U.S. imports. On an average day, nearly 500 containers travel from Tianjin to the U.S. This year about 97,000 containers arrived from Tianjin, which is up 10 percent from 2014 YTD.

Ports and companies that could be affected.

The leading U.S. ports receiving the shipments from Tianjin are Los Angeles and Long Beach, which combined account for over 45 percent of the goods. If port infrastructure has been damaged at Tianjin, it could mean a little lull in volume from Asia to the LA/LB ports. This isn’t great news for Long Beach, which is already experiencing a 7 percent decline in import market share from China, compared to January-July of last year.

As for businesses impacted, Zepol’s data also shows that over 6,000 companies have imported from Tianjin already this year. Major U.S. importers from the area include: Pacific Cycle, Lg Sourcing, Itochu Building Products, Yingli Green Energy Americas, and Ta Chen International, all of which have imported over 1,000 containers from Tianjin this year. Time will tell if this explosion has impacted their trade lanes but for now, the impact is most present on the hundreds of victims of the horrific ordeal.

Are Imports Moving to the East Coast?

Imports Shift East Graphic Map

The answer, yes. Zepol found that a hefty chunk of businesses have switched from using Pacific to Atlantic and Gulf ports this year. Total imports along the East Coast have increased by 15 percent, while import traffic on the West Coast is down 4 percent.

It’s crazy to think that freight going all the way from Asia to Eastern and Gulf ports is the best option for some importers, but China is actually the main instigator behind the supply chain shift. Imports from China along the West Coast declined by 3 percent, but Chinese imports on the East Coast continue to skyrocket. Atlantic ports increased containers from China by 20 percent this year, and Gulf ports by a more dramatic 43 percent.

“Shipments are setting sail for Eastern ports even before the Panama Canal expansion is complete,” explains Zepol’s CEO, and trade data expert, Paul Rasmussen. “Shippers may be fed up with West Coast backups, and with carriers adding more lines from Asia to the East Coast, it’s hard to blame them.”

The ports of Newark/New York, Savannah, and Houston had the highest increase in imports for the first half of 2015 (compared with the same time in 2014). The Port of Newark/New York increased in imports by 12 percent, Savannah rose by 32 percent, and Houston by another 26 percent. The port of Houston also had a huge surge in containers from China. The port brought in 53 percent more Chinese containers already this year.

Below is table of the top 10 ports' import volume in 2015 compared with 2014 (Jan-June)

US Port TEUs
(Jan-June 2015)
(Jan-June 2014)
% Change
Los Angeles, CA 1,944,277 2,054,137 -5%
Long Beach, CA 1,640,322 1,699,209 -3%
Newark/ New York 1,578,021 1,409,863 12%
Savannah, GA 816,585 616,948 32%
Norfolk, VA 512,914 460,186 11%
Houston, TX 452,998 359,904 26%
Charleston, SC 411,848 360,886 14%
Tacoma, WA 404,478 393,006 3%
Oakland, CA 383,456 400,140 -4%
Seattle, WA 252,838 238,576 6%
All Others 1,407,117 1,327,942 6%
TOTAL 9,804,857 9,320,797 5%

Data Note: The data in this report does not include empty containers, or shipments labeled as ‘freight remaining on board,’ and may contain other data anomalies.

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