Port Tracker report has positive themes heading into 2014
January 13, 2014
Optimism appears to be the operative term in describing growth prospects at U.S.-based retail container ports in 2014, according to the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy 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, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades. Authors of the report explained that Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.
For November, the most recent month in which data is available, Port Tracker said that the surveyed ports handled 1.37 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), which dipped 4.3 percent from October, which is viewed as the busiest month of the year for imports, and was up 6.5 percent annually.
And the report is pegging December at 1.35 million TEU, which would represent a 5 percent gain over December 2012. Should this number hold, the report indicated 2013 will be 2.8 percent higher than 2013’s 16.3 million TEU and a 5.8 percent gain over 15.8 million in 2012, which marked a 3.4 percent increase over 2011.
“Retailers are still assessing the holiday season, but they’re also looking ahead to see what will happen in the new year,” Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Based on these early numbers, 2014 looks like it should be off to a good start.”
Last year, the NRF called for 2013 holiday sales would head up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, with imports from August through September, which represent the months when the majority of holiday-related merchandise is imported into the U.S., at 4.35 million TEU for a 4.3 percent annual gain.
Port Tracker expects January to be up 4.8 percent annually at 1.37 million TEU, with February down 7.5 percent at 1.18 million TEU, and March up 15.9 percent at 1.32 million TEU. April and May are currently estimated at 1.4 million TEU and 1.46 million TEU for 7.7 percent and 4.6 percent increases, respectively.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett observed in the report that 2014 looks to stands as an improvement over 2013, due to better-than- expected GDP figures, lower unemployment rates and continued low inflation, coupled with expectations of a stronger dollar that will also help to increase consumer confidence as import prices continue to fall. But he cautioned that the inventory-to-sales ratio is still high at a time when it should be declining seasonally, which could mean that current GDP growth is stemming from the services sector, while albeit not a negative but it could translate into retail sales not being the growth engine for import volumes.
But even if that is the case Hackett said that expectations of a stronger dollar could help top bolster consumer confidence with import prices falling.
“We are seeing a trend from 2011 into 2014 if each peak getting higher and the troughs are getting less than we have had in the past, which serves as a confirmation that the recovery is ongoing,” Hackett said.
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