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Port Tracker report calls for solid first half of 2011

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
February 15, 2011

In a sign that the global economic recovery may have some sustained momentum, 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 be up 11 percent year-over-year in February. The report is also calling for first half 2011 volumes to be up 6 percent annually.

In December, the most recent month for which data is available, U.S. ports handled 1.14 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU). December’s performance represents the 13th straight month to show an annual gain after a 28-month stretch of declines that ended in December 2009. Even with the annual increase, Port Tracker reported that December was down compared to November’s 1.23 million TEU, due to the end of the holiday season, and was up 5 percent compared to a difficult 2009.

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

With its prediction of 6 percent volume growth for the first half of 2011, Port Tracker is calling for a cumulative 7.3 million TEU over that period, which would be down compared to 17 percent first half growth for the first half of 2010, which had favorable comparisons. In 2010 there were 14.7 million total TEU imports at the surveyed ports for a 16 percent annual gain over 2009, with 2009 checking in at 12.7 million TEU for its lowest level since 2003.

In an interview with LM, Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said that the 2011 outlook is one of cautious optimism with 2011 being different from 2010 in that 2010 was driven by a mix of inventory restocking and purchases brought forward due to shortages of containers and space, and a lack of forecasting on retail sales, which led to additional purchasing activity. Another driver for a busy first half of 2010 were first-time homebuyer tax credits, which spurred housing-related import activity for items like furniture, coupled with improving industrial production in the U.S.

“In 2011, inventory restocking is not a factor, and the inventory-to-sales ratio has only been going up a little bit,” said Hackett. “We will also see sales more accurately reflecting consumer demand, too, which we believe is coming back. There is more optimism in the marketplace now and less fear of losing jobs. U.S. exports are also going up and being helped by favorable exchange rates, which will lead to more demand for production of U.S.-manufactured goods. While the numbers won’t be like last year, retail sales will help drive these optimistic numbers.”

The Port Tracker report is calling for January to come in at 1.14 million TEU for a 7.3 percent annual gain. February is projected to also reach 1.11 million TEU for an 11 percent annual increase, and March is pegged at 1.16 million TEU for an 8 percent gain. April is expected to hit 1.22 million TEU for a 7 percent increase, and May at 1.3 million TEU for a 3 percent gain. June is expected to be up 4 percent at 1.37 million TEU.

“Strong growth in 2010 has retailers cautiously optimistic that the economic recovery is finally taking hold,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “While high unemployment and rising commodity prices are cause for concern, retailers are encouraged by six consecutive months of retail sales gains and improved consumer confidence.”

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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