Port Tracker report calls for slight increase in import cargo volumes in December

Shifts in inventory management by retailers appear to have made an impact on import cargo volumes at major United States-based container ports, according to the monthly Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

By ·

Shifts in inventory management by retailers appear to have made an impact on import cargo volumes at major United States-based container ports, according to the monthly Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah.
Port Tracker noted that December is expected to be up 0.3 percent on an annual basis.

Total volume for 2011 is now expected to come in at 14.76 million TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent units), which is down from recent estimates in the last three months of 15 million TEU, 15.4 million TEU, and 14.73 million TEU, respectively. 2010 ended up at 14.75 million TEU, which was up 16 percent compared to a dismal 2009. The 12.7 million TEU shipped in 2009 was the lowest annual tally since 2003.

“The uptick we’re expecting for December isn’t large at all but it comes after several months where retailers had reduced their imports from last year, so it’s a positive sign by comparison,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Retailers are placing a cautious bet that consumer demand is increasing.”

While December is expected to see a slight gain, the report stated that October, the most recent month for which data is available, handled 1.28 million TEU, which is off 3.5 percent compared to September’s 1.33 million TEU and is the best single month of 2011 to date. October is down 5 percent year-over-year.

In an interview with LM, Ben Hackett, president of Hackett Associates, explained that there are clear signs that the U.S. economy is picking up, with things currently not as bad as originally expected. Among the metrics showing improvement are consumer confidence, the Institute for Supply Management’s PMI, and industrial production, among others.

“Consumers have continued to spend after Thanksgiving weekend into December,” said Hackett. “Carriers in the Far East are confirming that December is actually stronger than usual.”

Along with consumer spending showing signs of life, cautious inventory planning by retailers is also impacting freight flows and volumes, too, said Hackett. He said this was evident, with inventory being managed at or near critical levels, with a little increase in October.

But especially since Thanksgiving weekend, inventory levels are back to fairly low levels, coupled with some re-stocking occurring by retailers.

With September looking to be the best volume month of the year, Hackett was blunt in his assessment of November.

“It was not a good month for volumes,” he said. “But we are optimistic about December. Early January should be a solid due to pre-Chinese New Year production coming up at the end of January, but the last ten days of January and the first two weeks of February will likely be down sharply, which is seasonal.”

In the ocean shipping sector, rates remain depressed and capacity remains at high levels. This is happening at a time when many carriers are looking to take capacity out, especially in Trans-Pacific lanes, said Hackett. This has yet to be reflected in freight rates, but when it does Hackett said rates may increase a bit in January.

Port Tracker is pegging November at 1.18 million TEU for a 4.4 percent annual decrease, and December is expected to hit 1.15 million TEU, which would be up 0.3 percent. January is expected to reach 1.15 million TEU for a 4.8 percent decline, and February, long viewed the slowest month of the year, is predicted to hit 1.04 million TEU for a 5.7 percent decline.

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

Subscribe to Logistics Management Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Latest Whitepaper
Case Study: LEAN Yields Big Results
Every day, companies across a wide range of industries use LEAN in their supply chains, warehouses and distribution centers, finance departments, and customer service centers, among other areas. LEAN practices improve safety, quality, and productivity by extracting cost and waste from all facets of an operation – from the procurement of raw materials to the shipment of finished goods.
Download Today!
From the October 2016 Issue
Over the past decade we’ve seen a major trend in regards to safety regulations for freight transport within the United States as well as for import and export shippers—that trend is the “international­ization” of rules and regulations.
European Logistics Update: Post-Brexit U.K. moving ahead, but in which direction?
Badcock Home Furniture &more: Out with paper, in with Cloud TMS
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
How API Technology Connects the Transportation Economy
Dynamic decision making is made possible through accurate, actionable data. When combined with progress in data science and the Internet of Things, technology companies that add value to direct-to-carrier APIs and combine them with high-power data analytics will create new concepts for the information economy.
Register Today!
Motor Carrier Regulations Update: Caught in a Trap
The fed is hitting truckers with a barrage of costly regulations in an era of scant profits....
25th Annual Masters of Logistics
Indecision revolving around three complex supply chain elements—transportation, technology and...

2016 Quest for Quality: Winners Take the Spotlight
Which carriers, third-party logistics providers and U.S. ports have crossed the service-excellence...
Regional ports concentrate on growth and connectivity
With the Panama Canal expansion complete, ocean cargo gateways in the Caribbean are investing to...