Port Tracker report points to slight overall growth in March
March 11, 2013
The most recent edition of the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates indicates the federal budget sequester has the potential to curtail United States-bound import cargo growth at a time when trade is still growing, albeit at a very average pace.
The Port Tracker report said 1.33 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) were handled in January for the ports followed by Port Tracker, marking a 0.8 percent gain from December 2012 and a 3.7 percent gain compared to January 2012. This is the most recent month for which data is available.
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 the recent addition of Fort Lauerdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades.
The report is calling for the first six months of 2013 to hit 8 million TEU, which would be a 4.3 percent annual improvement. For all of 2012, the total TEU count was 15.8 million TEU, marking a 2.9 percent annual bump. 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.
Port Tracker estimates February volumes, which are typically the slowest of the year, at 1.16 million TEU for a 6.8 percent annual gain. March is expected to rise 2.3 percent to 1.27 million TEU, and April is expected to be up 3.5 percent at 1.35 million TEU.
Regarding the potential impact of federal budget sequestration on port operations, the report cited how U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently said that spending cuts due to the sequester would result in port cutbacks that could cause Customs inspection of cargo containers to take up to five days, with ports also having to deal with immediate overtime pay cuts and mid-April furloughs, too.
“Retailers are aware of the impact of the cuts on Customs operations at the ports and are working to plan accordingly so the impact on merchandise headed for the store shelves is minimized,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “This is a situation the industry is monitoring very closely.”
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in the report that effects of sequestration on the economy coupled with the minimal GDP growth reported in the fourth quarter of 2012 (0.1 percent according to the second estimate) indicate there is nothing to indicate a strong resurgence of trade in 2013. Instead, he said it is more or less “steady as she goes” on the consumer front as caution prevails and savings increase.
“GDP is really barely holding on there, but at least it is positive and sustainable,” Hackett told LM. “Unemployment is showing some gradual improvement, too. It is all positive but not outstanding. There will be some growth over the next six-to-eight months, but it will not be dramatic. It is better than it is in Europe, where things continue to decline.”
Year-to-date, Hackett said things appear to be meeting expectations, aided by the fact that economic growth in the first half of 2012 was weak.
The effects of the sequester on the Customs front in terms of how it impacts port operations are not likely to be easily identifiable for three months or so, he said, as carriers are likely to adjust operations and be proactive in planning for disruptions in advance.
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