Port Tracker report calls for 15 percent annual volume increase and a new peak month

Following last month’s report which noted import cargo volumes at U.S.-based retail container ports would begin to decline in the coming months, the most recent Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates notes that 2010 volume is pegged to hit 14.5 million containers for a 15 percent annual increase.

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Following last month’s report which noted import cargo volumes at U.S.-based retail container ports would begin to decline in the coming months, the most recent Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates notes that 2010 volume is pegged to hit 14.5 million containers for a 15 percent annual increase.

July volumes are expected to rise 1.38 million TEU, or 25 percent, and August volumes are expected to rise 14 percent year-over-year at 1.32 million TEU, according to the report.

Port Tracker indicated that U.S. ports handled 1.32 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) in June, which is the latest month for which data is available, for a 4 percent gain from May and a 30 percent year-over-year gain. This marks the eighth straight month to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 snapped a 28-month streak of declining volumes through November 2009.

This year began with sequential gains in December and January, followed by a decline in February. March volumes—came in at 1.07 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units), which was up 7 percent from February’s 1.01 million TEU and 12 percent year-over-year. April volumes at 1.15 million TEU—were up 7 percent from March and 16 percent year-over-year. And May hit 1.25 million TEU followed by June’s 1.32 million TEU. 

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah.

The report’s authors said that the large double-digit increases in June and July can be attributed to backlogs that accumulated due to a lack of shipping capacity brought on by ship owners removing capacity during the recession, followed by them taking their time bringing them back online when economic activity picked up.

They added that many retailers may actually be transporting more merchandise earlier in the year to avoid further bottlenecks, explaining that this could lead to July becoming the peak shipping month in 2010 as opposed to October, which is more common.

“Shippers and importers have sort of moved ahead of the market by buying early partly out of fear that there was not going to be enough capacity later on, and it seems that they have gotten a head start,” said Ben Hackett, president of Hackett Associates, in an interview. “This is what really drove the May-July figures.

Hackett added that he believes the container shortage is close to an end, with carriers putting vessels back into service that are charged with bringing back empty containers from Europe and North America. And the amount of empty containers moving out of U.S. ports is higher through the first six months of 2010 than it was for all of 2009, according to Port Tracker.

And with various economic indicators taking steps backwards in recent weeks, Hackett pointed out that consumer confidence appears to be moving in lockstep with that trend, as current levels—since June—are in line with August 2009.

Even though the Port Tracker report maintains that July may turn out to be the peak shipping month of the year, Hackett noted that does not mean there will not be growth in the coming months.

In fact, year-over-year projected growth rates are still in double-digits, with July and August projected to hit 1.38 million TEU (25 percent increase) and 1.32 million TEU (14 percent increase, respectively. September is expected to hit 1.32 million TEU (16 percent increase, and October is slated for 1.31 million TEU (10 percent increase. November and December are projected to hit 1.19 million TEU (9 percent increase) and 1.12 million TEU (2 percent increase), respectively.

“We aren’t back to where we were two years ago and consumers aren’t convinced that the recession is over quite yet, but 2010 is clearly going to finish better than last year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “In the meantime, retailers are monitoring demand very closely and hoping to see increases in employment and other areas that will boost consumer confidence. Cargo numbers this summer are showing unusually high percentage increases, but that appears to be an indication of shortages in shipping capacity earlier in the year rather than sales expectations.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
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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