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Retail imports to increase while longshoremen strike looms

BY Brae Canlen

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 2.3% in January over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Meanwhile, port workers say they’re ready to strike at East Coast and Gulf Coast docks.

“The strike deadline came and went at the end of December, but the threat of closing down nearly half our nation’s port capacity has only been postponed, not eliminated,” said Jonathan Gold, VP supply chain and customs policy for the NRF. “The uncertainty of what will happen in February has retailers implementing expensive contingency plans yet again and is a burden our economy cannot afford.”

The latest extension of contract talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance runs through Feb. 6 and comes after previous strike deadlines in September and October. The union and management are scheduled to meet next week under the supervision of federal mediators, but the ILA walked away from local talks affecting the Ports of New York and New Jersey earlier this week. A strike would close 14 ports from Maine to Texas where nearly 15,000 dockworkers handle 40% of the nation’s ocean cargo. 

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. With most holiday merchandise already in the country, that figure was down 8.6% from October, and down 2.8% from November 2011. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. 

December was estimated at 1.3 million TEU, up 6.5% from last year. January is forecast at 1.31 million TEU, up 2.3% from January 2012. February is projected at 1.15 million TEU, up 6%, and March at 1.25 million TEU, up 0.5%. April and May are expected at 1.33 million TEU (a 1.7% rise) and 1.42 million TEU (3.4% increase), respectively.

The first half of 2012 totaled 7.7 million TEU, up 3% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2012 was estimated at 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9% from 2011. 

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said there were signs that retailers brought merchandise into the country early as the ILA’s Dec. 29 strike deadline approached.

“We have seen a rise in the level of the retail inventory-to-sales ratio,” Hackett said. “This may be a reflection of importers stocking up ahead of the East Coast/Gulf coast port strike that was expected, though the run-up came well ahead of that.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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Bosch gets the nod from Consumer Reports

BY Brae Canlen

Consumer Reports has given its No. 1 ranking and “Best Buy” rating to Bosch dishwashers in its most recent edition. Six models of the German-engineered appliances were featured on the magazine’s recommended list.

Bosch entered the dishwasher market in 1991. The Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer makes an assortment of models that range from an all-plastic tub to a fully featured stainless steel tub.

“We are honored by this top recognition and proud to continue our commitment to quality across our line," said Stephanie Hutaff, director of product marketing, dishwashers for Bosch home appliances.

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Fake grenade evacuates Lowe’s in Texas

BY Brae Canlen

An irate customer planted a fake grenade in the lumber department of a Lowe’s in Texas, prompting an evacuation of the store. The January 9 incident, reported by the Houston Chronicle, began around 1:15 p.m. when the suspect entered the store with a hollowed-out grenade. 

According to a sheriff department spokesperson: "He was unhappy with store security in the sense that no one had noticed that he had been walking around the store with the hand grenade. He expressed his displeasure with an employee, who asked him to leave."

The unnamed individual placed the device on a stack of lumber in the building materials section and then grabbed a cart and started shopping. 

Sheriff’s deputies arrived moments later and evacuated the store. No injuries were reported. The suspect was questioned, and no charges are expected to be filed in the case, according to the article.

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