Port Tracker report expects October volumes to see 2.6 percent annual gain

Report states that October should represent the highest level of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season

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Even though a true 2011 Peak Season did not live up to once-promising expectations, import cargo volumes at major United States-based container ports are expected to see a 2.6 percent annual increase in October, according to the monthly Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The report stated that October should represent the highest level of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season. The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah.

According to the report, total volume for 2011 is expected to come in at 15 million TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent units), which is down slightly from last month’s 15.4 million TEU estimate. The 15 million TEU estimate would be a 1.8 percent gain over 2010. In 2010, imports hit 14.7 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. 

“After a summer of trying to compare apples to oranges, retail cargo is back to normal,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “October is the historic peak of the shipping cycle each year, and retailers are bringing merchandise into the country on their usual schedule and at normal levels again instead of being forced to move cargo early. Retailers are poised to succeed in maintaining the careful balance between inventory and sales that keeps customers happy while keeping retailers profitable.”

In an interview with LM, Ben Hackett, president of Hackett Associates said that despite evidence of some growth, “the Peak Season is gone, never came and is not here” with flattish trade activity. Hackett defines Peak Season as typically running from mid-or late-July through late September.

And unlike a year ago when shippers were leery of tight capacity and brought merchandise into the U.S. well ahead of the traditional Peak Season timeframe, the same activity did not repeat itself a year later, based on the abundant supply of ocean capacity, coupled with less-than-needed demand to fill those vessels.

“A lot of capacity has been taken out for the season already,” said Hackett. “We are seeing more being removed on the Transpacific especially. The hope is that volumes pick up in the next year, with a lot of continued capacity reduction ongoing in the next two months or so.

But that is not a sure thing, considering the cautious buying habits of consumers during this ongoing period of economic uncertainty. The NRF is forecasting a 2.8 percent increase in holiday retail sales in November and December.

Hackett said this estimate remains realistic at this point.

The Port Tracker said August, the most recent month for which data is available, came in at 1.32 million TEU, which matched July and was down 7 percent compared to August 2010. September is estimated at 1.37 million TEU for a 2.7 percent annual increase. October is pegged at 1.39 million TEU for a 2.6 percent gain while resuming its role as the busiest month of the year. November is forecasted at 1.28 million TEU for a 4 percent increase. And December, January, and February are pegged at 1.18 million TEU (a 2.7 percent gain), 1.16 million TEU (a 3.6 percent decrease), and 1.1 million TEU, a 3.8 percent decrease.

September to come in at 1.5 million TEU for an 11.8 percent annual increase. October is expected to reach 1.48 million TEU for a 9.5 percent increase. November is projected to hit 1.33 million TEU for an 8 percent increase. December is expected to hit 1.2 million TEU for a 4.5 percent increase, and January is pegged at 1.19 million TEU for a 1 percent decrease.

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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