Despite high inventory levels, Port Tracker report is positive about rest of 2013

By Jeff Berman · December 10, 2013

Boosted by some promising signs in the United States economy, the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates is calling for a positive end to 2013 in terms of annual import growth at U.S.-based retail container ports.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

In October, which is viewed as the busiest month of the year for imports and the most recent month in the report for which data is available, the report said the surveyed ports handled 1.43 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units, which dipped 0.4 percent from September and was up 6.4 percent compared to October 2012.

The report added that from August through September, which represent the months when the majority of holiday-related merchandise is imported into the U.S., cumulatively accounted for 4.35 million cargo containers, which was up 4.3 percent compared to the same period last year and accounted for 26.8 percent of all retail imports for 2013. What’s more, the NRF recently predicted 2013 holiday sales would be up 3.9 percent annually at $602.1 billion.

“Imports have seen good growth over last year and retailers are well-stocked as the holiday season continues,” Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Holiday merchandise has made it from the ships to the shelves and the rest is up to the shoppers.”

Port Tracker expects total import volume for 2013 to come in at 16.2 million TEU, which would represent a 2.3 percent increase from 15.8 million TEU last year, with the first half of the year coming in at 7.8 million TEU for a 1.2 percent annual increase over the first half of 2012.

And it estimated November was up 3.6 percent annually at 1.33 million TEU, and December is expected to be up 1.8 percent at 1.31 million TEU. January and February are expected to be up 3.3 percent and down 7.8 percent, respectively, at 1.35 million TEU and 1.18 million TEU.

In his analysis of the data, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett noted that the U.S. economy appears to have found a growth spurt on a sustainable trend should the recent third quarter GDP estimate of 3.6 percent is a reliable indicator, which follows a 2.5 percent increase in the second quarter.

“For a mature economy, those are quite high growth rates,” Hackett told LM. “We are well on our way to a sustained recovery. And with unemployment now down to 7 percent, it is also a positive sign for economic recovery.”

But despite the GDP gains, Hackett said there lies a caveat in that consumer spending remains cautious and “does not come anywhere near the expansion of GDP,” mainly because inventory levels are increasing. He noted that even with back-to-school sales, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and regular sales, the inventory-to-sales ratio is still too high, but said that increased consumer spending in November and December might help to reduce those inventory levels.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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