Port Tracker calls for nearly 10 percent import volume gains in October
October 09, 2012 - LM Editorial
While many supply chain stakeholders maintain that recent incarnations of Peak Season are lacking compared to previous years, it appears that seasonal volume growth is occurring through October, according to data from the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
Port Tracker is calling for October, typically the strongest volume month of the year, to be up 9.9 percent annually, which is down from a previous estimate of 11.7 percent annual growth.
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.
Port Tracker reported that the first half of 2012 accounted for 7.7 million (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units), which is up 2.9 percent annually and ahead of previous estimates in the 7.3 million TEU range. And for all of 2012 the report is expecting 16 million TEU, which would be up 4.1 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.
“NRF’s annual forecast says retailers should see solid growth during the holiday season this year and these cargo numbers back it up,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Increased imports show that retailers have gauged the market and expect increased sales.”
In August, the most recent month for which data is available, U.S. ports featured in the report handled 1.42 million TEU, which is up 6.7 percent over July and up 3.3 percent over August 2011.
September is expected to be up 8 percent at 1.49 million TEU, and October is projected to see a 9.9 percent gain at 1.45 million TEU. The report pointed out that August, September, and October represent the busiest three-month period of the year, with retailers bringing merchandise in for the holiday season, with combined volume for those months up a cumulative 7 percent.
Last week, the NRF issued a forecast calling for 2012 holiday sales to be up 4.1 percent at $586.1 billion.
As is the typical seasonal pattern, import volumes tend to tail off volume-wise after October into the New Year. November is expected to be up 2.4 percent at 1.32 million TEU, and December is expected to be up 4.6 percent at 1.28 million TEU. January is slated to be down 0.5 percent at 1.28 million TEU, with February expected to be up 9 percent at 1.19 million TEU.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in the report that many retailers brought in cargo early in advance of the possible strike between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance over a labor contract, which was set to expire on September 30 but received a 90-day extension through December 29.
He said that increased inventory levels could be due to low demand as well as pre-stocking due to the possibility of the for now-averted strike. But he also explained that inventory levels “are within a narrow range of movement” and do not suggest that another recession is imminent.
In a recent interview, Hackett explained that any requirements for orders for back-to-school season in August and the beginning of holiday shopping in November will result in increased volumes, adding that 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,” he said.
And 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.
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