Port Tracker report says import activity to remain slow in summer months

Barring a sudden shift in economic activity, United States-bound import activity is expected to remain along its current trend lines of slow growth, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker North America report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates

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Barring a sudden shift in economic activity, United States-bound import activity is expected to remain along its current trend lines of slow growth, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker North America report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The report is calling for a 1.1 percent annual gain for imports in July, continuing the ongoing trend of a relatively slow summer, but it noted that could change with increased import activity heading into the holiday season in the fall. 

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 Lauerdale, Fla.-based Port Everglades.

“With the economy recovering slowly, retailers have been cautious with imports this summer but it’s clear that they expect an upturn later in the year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Import numbers have been close to flat since spring, but we expect to see stronger increases this fall.”

The Port Tracker report said 1.38 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) were handled in May (the most recent month for which full data is available) for the ports followed by Port Tracker, which represents a 1.2 percent gain from April and a mere 0.6 percent increase compared to May 2012.

The report said the first six months of 2013 hit 7.8 million TEU, matching previous estimates and is up 1.2 percent compared to the first six months of 2012. Full-year 2012 TEU volume at 15.9 million TEU was up 7.3 percent annually.

The Port Tracker report estimates June volumes to be at 1.37 million TEU for a 0.7 percent annual decrease, and it is calling for July to be up 1.1 percent at 1.43 million TEU.  August is forecasted to be up 1.7 percent at 1.45 million TEU, and September is pegged at 1.44 million TEU for a 2.4 percent gain. October, which is typically the busiest month of the year, is being forecasted to come in at 1.46 million TEU for a 9.1 percent annual gain. 

In his comments in the report, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said that he still expects the annual containerized import growth rate for all ports covered in the report to be north of 3 percent and possibly as high as 4 percent with the caveat that it is dependent on economic measures taken in Washington.

“Consumers continue to maintain a modicum of confidence and importers…have been building up their inventories,” wrote Hackett. “The impact of the ‘sequester’ budget cuts is making its mark with reduced GDP in the second quarter but it remains well in positive territory and does not suffer from the same problems we see in Europe.”

But that does not mean everything is going great either, he cautioned, telling LM that
U.S. Consumer demand still remains weak at a 1 percent growth rate even though the GDP is slightly above 2 percent,” he said.

“The inventory-to-sales ratio has also gone up and is close to pre-recession levels that were last seen around 2006,” he explained. “That is a potential warning sign and it also means there is enough inventory in stores which do not require importers to have a big Peak Season.”

And with current inventory levels ostensibly sufficient Hackett added that is hindering any reason to increase those levels.


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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