Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Analysts: Import Volumes to Rise 25% in First Half of 2010

Analysts are predicting import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports, including those in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, will increase 25 percent during the first half of 2010 compared with the same period a year ago.

The predictions, contained within the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, differed sharply from the view of some economists that are predicting a W-shaped economic recovery– with another dip in the economy following a slight uptick.

“This forecast assumes that we are not in a double-dip recession and that a recovery is underway,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. “Although 2009 saw decreased import activity levels, the forecast for 2010 points towards growth.”

US ports covered in the report handled 1.09 million TEUs in December, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. In addition to the West Coast ports, the report also covers the East Coast ports of New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah, as well as the Port of Houston on the Gulf Coast.

The December import numbers were unchanged from November but up 2.6 percent from December 2008, breaking a 28-month streak during which monthly totals at the ports covered were lower than the same month the year before. The ports ended 2009 with a total import volume of 12.7 million TEU, a 17 percent dip from the 15.2 million TEU handled in 2008 and the lowest import volume numbers since the 12.5 million TEUs reported in 2003.

Despite the year-end decline in total import volume, the Global Port Tracker predicted that January import numbers would increase to 1.19 million TEUs, a 17 percent increase over the year-ago period, and February import would climb 30 percent of the same period in 2008 to 1.1 million TEUs.

March import numbers are forecast at 1.18 million TEUs, up 23 percent, April is forecast at 1.25 million TEUs, up 27 percent, May at 1.3 million TEUs, up 26 percent, and June at 1.38 million TEUs, up 36 percent.

These estimates would put total import volumes for the first six months of 2010 at 7.4 million TEU, up 25 percent from the January to June period last year.

“This is a dramatic turnaround over what we’ve seen during the past two years,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Increases in import volumes don’t correspond directly with dollar volumes in sales, so caution has to be exercised when looking at these numbers. But retailers are clearly expecting to move more merchandise this year.”