At the same time, some analysts revised their holiday forecasts upward after the retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters beat estimates and reported an average 5.1 percent increase in same-store sales for September last Thursday.
“For the holidays,” Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, wrote in a note to clients last week, “a 5 to 6 percent increase is clearly in reach.”
On Monday, a Citigroup retail analyst, Deborah Weinswig, revised her holiday forecast up by a percentage point, saying she expected 4 percent to 5 percent gains in same-store sales at department stores, up from 3 percent to 4 percent. There is traditionally a strong correlation between the back-to-school and holiday seasons, Ms. Weinswig said. Some retailers are raising their prices because raw-material costs have gone up, she wrote, which would help sales. And the “surprisingly resilient” back-to-school season, she wrote, had led to “our more upbeat outlook.”
In contrast, the people who work at ports, and at train and trucking companies, say the shipments do not seem to be high enough to signal strong holiday sales.
Higher shipping volumes are “a prediction that sales are going to go up,” Mr. Steinke said. “The N.R.F. and some of those groups have said there’s going to be an increase in volume coming through the ports. When our August numbers are down and carriers say future loadings aren’t all that great, you wonder where that peak is coming from.”
While Mr. Steinke said that retailers occasionally delayed shipping for as long as possible to see how the economy progressed, he said they usually gave transportation companies a heads-up if they were planning a lot of last-minute orders. This year, he said, the retailers do not seem to be expecting that.
“We talk to the railroads, we talk to our ocean carriers, and they’re not seeing this big peak, or bracing themselves for a big late peak,” Mr. Steinke said.
Ms. McDermott of the Los Angeles port had a similar take.
“The N.R.F. came out with some numbers for strong growth, but I think what we’re seeing is consistent with the trends over all in the U.S.,” she said, and that is “some very small, maybe, or muted peak season, September, October, and then probably flat for the rest of the year.”
The slowdown seems to be occurring on land, too.