23 Apr 2014
Despite one of the worst winters in recent history, the operators of the nation’s largest ports are predicting increased import volumes as we head into the spring, according to a new report.
The Port Tracker report compiled by the National Retail Federation predicts that imports at the nation’s largest ports will increase 6.1% to 1.38 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in April. Contrast this with February, when port traffic was down 8.4% from the previous month. February 2014 traffic beat February 2013 by 1.4%, however.
While the March 2014 numbers have not yet been finalized, according to the NRF they are expected to be 15% higher than March 2013. May and June also were expected to be higher, up 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively, over the previous year.
As we head into the summer months, port traffic will continue to increase. July traffic is predicted to increase 3.1% and August will rise 1.2%, the report predicted.
Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the NRF, said the harsh winter will soon be forgotten and the nation’s ports will be as busy as they have ever been.
“With winter over, retailers are stocking up in anticipation of a busy spring and summer,” Gold told Logistics Management. “Consumers can expect plentiful supplies of merchandise. A busy time is expected over the next few months, so retailers are keeping a close eye on the labor situation at West Coast ports to ensure that cargo continues to move smoothly.”
The contract with the West Coast dockworkers expires June 30 and negotiations have not yet begun, but industry observers anticipate both sides to sit down at the end of May.
“Companies are already exploring contingency plans in case of a disruption,” Gold said.
And then there’s the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is scheduled to be completed later this year. Once work to widen and deepen the canal is complete, East Coast ports will be able to accommodate the super-sized “Panamax” cargo container ships that currently can only dock at deep-water ports on the West Coast.
In compiling its predictions, the NRF surveyed port officials at some of the largest US ports, including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Charleston, Savannah, Seattle, New York/New Jersey, and Oakland.
The report predicted the number of cargo containers the ports can handle, not the value of the cargo they contain, so the numbers don’t directly correlate to retail sales or employment statistics. However, the number of cargo containers handled by the nation’s ports provides a rough barometer of what retailers can expect in the coming months.
Ben Hackett — founder of Hackett Associates, a leading cargo industry consulting firm — said the rough winter had a definite impact on the national economy, but now that it’s over the economic indicators are improving.
“Our forecast continues to reflect the economic rebound and we remain convinced that 2014 will have sustainable growth,” Hacket said in a written statement. “For the year as a whole, we project an increase of 3.9% in containerized imports from the ports we cover, with a total of 19.3 million TEU. Of this, the West Coast represents a 3.7% increase over 2013 with 11.6 million TEU and the East Coast a 4.4% increase over 2013 with 7 million TEU. The remainder is in the Gulf.”