Port Tracker report points to strong finish of the year
September 09, 2013 - LM Editorial
Even in a relatively tepid economic environment, there are indications holiday–related import activity is gaining traction, according to the most recent edition of the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.
The report is calling for September volumes at United States-based retail container ports to increase 5.1 percent annually in September, with retailers preparing for the holiday season. Last month, it noted import gains are expected through the holiday season.
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. Authors of the report explained that Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them, adding that the amount of merchandise imported provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.
“Retailers are making up for the slow imports seen earlier in the year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “It’s too early to predict holiday sales, but merchants are clearly stocking up.”
The Port Tracker report said 1.43 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) were handled in July (the most recent month for which full data is available) for the ports followed by Port Tracker, which represents a 5.4 percent increase compared to June and a 1.1 percent gain compared to July 2012.
The report said the 2013 forecast remains at 16.2 million for a 2.5 percent gain over 2012’s 15.8 million TEU, with the first six months of the year at 7.8 million TEU for a 1.2 percent increase.
The Port Tracker report estimates August volumes to be at 1.48 million TEU for a 4.1 percent annual decrease, and it is calling for September to be up 5.1 percent at 1.48 million TEU. October, which is traditionally the busiest month of the year, is pegged 1.46 million TEU for a 9 percent gain. November and December are expected to be at 1.31 million TEU and 1.3 million TEU for 2.2 percent and 0.7 percent increases, respectively.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in the report that the U.S. economy is on the road to sustained growth, with second quarter GDP of 2.5 percent beating expectations, coupled with an improving unemployment outlook, with consumer spending expected to increase in the fourth quarter.
“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 in a recent interview.
What’s more, he observed that the inventory-to-sales ratio is relatively high although it has not shown any indicators that it is rising, which could lead to a decent Peak Season this year with increased shipment activity.
With that as a backdrop, Hackett said 2014 imports could be up by 5 percent compared to 2013 and could serve as a boon to terminal operators and carriers, although the capacity outlook remains muddled as carriers continue to grow at a higher rate, which is, in turn, leading to carriers establishing partnership alliances to reduce scale.
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