Government shutdown doesn't have influence, Port Tracker report calls for strong October import activity
A moderate economic recovery and a United States federal government shutdown do not appear to be enough to prevent holiday season-related import activity from posting an annual gain, 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 volumes in October (which is typically the busiest month of the year) at United States-based retail container ports to increase 9.1 percent annually in October, which the report reflects goods ordered months in advance of the government shutdown, with retailers gearing up for holiday shopping activity.
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.
“With the holidays nearly here, retailers are making sure their shelves are well-stocked,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Cargo is continuing to move through the ports but the government shutdown has left some agencies short-handed, so NRF will monitor the situation closely as the holidays approach.”
Even with Customs and Border Protection placing 6,000 staffers on furlough due to the shutdown, CBP maintains that the subsequent import on trade activity will be minimal with ports remaining open and inspectors on the job and processing cargo. Conversely, though, the report said there is concern by retailers over how some government agencies that clear cargo at ports are not staffed to levels CBP is.
The Port Tracker report said 1.48 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) were handled in August (the most recent month for which full data is available) for the ports followed by Port Tracker, which represents a 2.5 percent increase compared to July and a 3.8 percent gain compared to August 2012.
The report said the 2013 forecast is at 16.3 million for a 2.7 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 September volumes to be at 1.47 million TEU for a 4.9 percent annual decrease, and it is calling for October to be up 9.1 percent at 1.46 million TEU. November and December are expected to be at 1.33 million TEU and 1.31 million TEU for 3.4 percent and 1.8 percent increases, respectively.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett told LM in an interview that to date the government shutdown has negatively impacted the stock market more so than trade so far and has not been a drag on its 2013 forecast of 2.7 percent annual growth, which is in line with what it has been forecasting for more than three months.
“Our forecast has basically ignored what is happening in Washington,” he said. But if the government dysfunction in Congress and the White House continues for more than a couple of weeks, that is another issue, though.”
Hackett commented that ocean container traffic growth remains slow, due to reduced demand for shipping capacity that that has led to ocean carriers reducing the number of vessels on the water and relying on other tactics like using larger ships and leveraging alliances to better manage capacity as the supply and demand balance dictates pricing.