Monday, March 7, 2011

Retail Imports to Maintain Strong Volumes at Major Ports

Analysts are predicting the nation’s major retail container ports will continue to post strong import container volumes in March, indicating growing confidence of increased sales by retailers. At the same time, decreased oil production from North African is driving up the cost of oil and is likely to cause an increase in shipping costs.

Foreign import cargo volumes at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to be up 11 percent in March over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday by the National Retail Federation.

The monthly report, produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the US ports of Long Beach/Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; Charleston, Hampton Roads, New York/New Jersey, and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

“These numbers show solid increases over last year and are evidence that our nation’s economic recovery is continuing to build momentum,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Increases in imports are a clear sign that retailers expect sales to continue to climb in the next several months.”

US ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.2 million TEUs in January, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 5 percent from December and 12 percent from January 2010. It was the 14th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.

February, the report points out, is traditionally the slowest month of the year and is estimated at 1.12 million TEU–an increase of 12 percent over February 2010. March is forecast at 1.19 million TEU, up 11 percent from a year ago; April at 1.24 million TEU, up 9 percent; May at 1.32 million TEU, up 5 percent; June at 1.39 million TEU, up 5 percent; and July at 1.45 million TEU, up 5 percent.

The report predicts that the first half of 2011 will come in at 7.5 million TEU, up 9 percent from the first half of 2010.

In addition, the North African political turmoil is impacting the cost of oil and possibly the costs of shipping.

“Oil supply is going down as a number of nations have dropped out of the production cycle,” Hackett said. “Freight rates have been decreasing but that will not last long as fuel costs are factored in.”