Port Tracker report expects gains in August and rest of the year
August 13, 2013 - LM Editorial
The monthly Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates released today is calling for import volume at United States major retail container ports to rise 1.7 percent annually in August. Should this occur, it will be viewed as a welcome sign, as volumes have been down in four of the last five months, according to the report.
While Port Tracker is calling for a 1.7 percent gain in August, the report said that further gains are expected through the holiday season and the rest of the year, too.
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.
“As the economy continues to slowly improve, retailers are stocking up for their most important sales season of the year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Merchants have been very cautious so far this year, but our forecasts show that they plan to make up for it in the next few months.”
The Port Tracker report said 1.36 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) were handled in June (the most recent month for which full data is available) for the ports followed by Port Tracker, which represents a 2.7 percent decline from May and a 1.8 percent decrease compared to June 2012.
The report said the first six months of 2013 hit 7.8 million TEU, for a 1.2 percent gain compared to the first six months of 2012. Full-year 2013 TEU volume, which is expected to be at 16.2 million TEU is expected to be up 2.4 percent compared to 2012’s 15.8 million TEU.
The Port Tracker report estimates July volumes to be at 1.4 million TEU for a 0.6 percent annual decrease, and it is calling for August to be up 1.7 percent at 1.45 million TEU. September is forecasted to be up 1.9 percent at 1.43 million TEU, and October, which is typically the busiest month of the year, is pegged at 1.45 million TEU for an 8.3 percent gain.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett wrote in the report that trade at these ports is positive, which confirms his firm’s view that the economy is on a slow and steady course of recovery. And he added that the report expects first half volumes for west coast ports to be up 6 percent annually, but he also cautioned that the inventory-to-sales ratio remains a concern as it remains in a still-high range of 128 to 130.
“The question is: are importers building up stock ahead of expected sales demand or in response to announced freight rate increases,” wrote Hackett. “For those with annual contracts the latter should not matter but it may be a psychological issue. We do expect to see a bit of a peak season in Q3 before volumes weaken again in Q4. Our overall projection for 2013 is slightly lower than it was last month, at 2.4 percent, down from 2.8 percent.”
In an interview with LM, Hackett said that the rate of growth is decent but not spectacular, which could be do in part the federal budget sequester.
He added that while consumers are making purchases, it is not happening at a fervent pace, and while overall 2013 growth was lowered from 2.8 percent to 2.4 percent, he pointed out that much of that growth is expected to come from increased activity in the second half of this year.
“A good amount of that growth is likely to come from back-to-school and the holiday season, but we are keeping our eye on housing starts as well, which we expect to continue to pick up as the year goes on,” said Hackett.
Hackett added that August and September could be promising based on the strong import performance into U.S. ports out of China in July.
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