Port Tracker report is optimistic about import volumes in coming months

The report is calling for July import cargo volume to increase 1.6 percent annually, with modest annual gains expected in subsequent months into the holiday shipping cycle.

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The near-term outlook for import cargo volume at U.S.-based retail container ports appears to be solid, according to the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The report is calling for July import cargo volume to increase 1.6 percent annually, with modest annual gains expected in subsequent months into the holiday shipping cycle. The ports surveyed in the report include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Houston, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, and Savannah, as well as the new addition of Miami in this report.

In recent editions of the report, Port Tracker stated that the first half of 2012 would total 7.3 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units), but this report said that the first half topped that at 7.5 million TEU, which was up 2.6 percent annually. The 2011 total was 14.8 million TEU, which was up 0.4 percent over 14.75 million TEU in 2010. Volume in 2010 was up 16 percent compared to a dismal 2009. The 12.7 million TEU shipped in 2009 was the lowest annual tally since 2003. According to NRF estimates, retail sales are expected to increase by 3.4 percent to $2.53 trillion.

“Whether consumers are going to have the confidence to spend during the next few months depends on what happens with employment, but retailers are being cautiously optimistic,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold in a statement. “Sales can fluctuate from month to month, but these import numbers show that retailers are still expecting this year to be better than last year.”

In May, the most recent month for which data is available, U.S. ports featured in the report handled 1.34 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units TEU, which is up 4.1 percent over April and up 2.3 percent over May 2011.

Port Tracker is calling for June to reach 1.34 million TEU for a 4.7 percent annual gain, with July expected to hit 1.38 million TEU, which would be up 1.6 percent. August is expected to be up 6.2 percent at 1.44 million TEU, and September is projected to see a 6.8 percent gain at 1.45 million TEU. October and November are expected to see 12.6 percent and 1.3 percent gains at 1.47 million TEU and 1.3 million TEU, respectively.

At a time when mixed economic signals prevail and many economists are skeptical about the strength of the economy, Hackett Associates President Ben Hackett said that his firm remains optimistic that consumers will remain active.

“We think June will be up nearly up 5 percent annually, and we think most of that will be driven still-low inventories,” he said in an interview. “Any requirements for orders for back-to-school season in August and the beginning of holiday shopping in November will result in increased volumes. New housing starts are also continuing to grow and are still positive. We think things are not as bad as perhaps some economists and commentators are making them out to be.”

While growth is expected through the rest of the year, Hackett said an abundance of ocean capacity still remains. This situation, he said, is likely to put pressure on pricing, which has fluctuated to a fair degree.

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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