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Port Tracker report calls for short-term volumes flattening before return to annual growth

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
May 16, 2011

The most recent edition of the Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates is calling for import cargo volume at major United States-based container ports to closely resemble last year, with a leveling off in May volumes.

But even with a bit of moderation on the heels on the heels of nearly 18 months of annual gains, the report said volumes are expected to remain steady through mid-summer with a pick-up expected in the subsequent months.

Port Tracker is calling for first half 2011 volumes to be up 7.1 percent, slightly below last month’s 7.4 prediction for the same timeframe and up 4 percent annually. In 2010, the report said there was a total of 14.7 million TEU moved—a 16 percent gain over 2009, which was largely achieved due to 2009’s 12.7 million TEU serving as the lowest annual tally since 2003.

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

The most recent month for which data is available in the report is March, which hit 1.08 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) and represented the 16th straight month to show an annual gain after a 28-month stretch of declines that ended in December 2009. March TEU levels were 2 percent below February’s, which is typically viewed as the slowest month of the year.

The sequential decline from February to March was not entirely unexpected as the Chinese New Year occurred in early February, with many shipments loaded ten days-to-two weeks prior to that, making it a stronger February than usual, according to Hackett Associates President Ben Hackett in a recent interview.

“The weakness comes in March with delays,” said Hackett. “Overall things are still holding up nicely with a seven-to-eight percent annual growth rate. Things may be a bit slower over the next couple months and then pick up as summer starts and gears up for [peak] season.”

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement that it’s not a surprise to see volumes leveling off, as retailers are being cautious with how much merchandise they import due to economic pressures like higher commodity prices, even though consumer demand is still relatively strong.

Recent retail sales numbers for April confirm that, with both the NRF and the Department of Commerce reporting last week that retail sales were up for the tenth straight month.

Looking ahead, the Port Tracker report is calling for April to come in at 1.18 million TEU for a 4 percent annual gain. May is expected to reach 1.26 million TEU for a 0.6 percent decline, which would be the first down month annually since November 2009. June is projected to hit at 1.31 million TEU for a 0.1 percent decrease. July is expected to hit 1.38 million TEU for a 0.4 percent increase, and August is pegged at 1.46 million TEU for a 2 percent gain. September is expected to be up 11 percent at 1.49 million TEU.

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About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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