February Import Cargo Volume Expected to be Up 8.5 Percent

However labor unrest at some ports still haunts retailers.

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 8.5 percent in February over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. This activity coincides with the tentative contract deal reached with East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers and despite a key West Coast agreement left unsettled.

“We were very happy to see a deal on a tentative contract for the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports but we are urging the parties to quickly work out any outstanding issues and ratify the agreement as soon as possible,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “We need a long-term labor contract in place to give retailers and the other industries that depend on the ports confidence that cargo will continue flowing. We were disappointed that the LA/Long Beach clerical workers’ contract wasn’t ratified, but are encouraging the parties to work through their differences without a disruption.”

The International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance reached tentative agreement February 1 on a contract that avoided a strike that could have shut down East Coast and Gulf Coast ports from Maine to Texas. The agreement is subject to reaching supplemental local agreements and ratification by union members. Last Wednesday, however, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Local 63 Office Clerical Unit voted down a tentative agreement with the Harbor Employers Association that ended an eight-day strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in November and December 2012.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 2.8 percent from November and up 8 percent from December 2011. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

The numbers for December brought 2012 to a total of 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9 percent from 2011.

January was estimated at 1.34 million TEU, up 4.6 percent from January 2012. February is forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 8.5 percent from last year; March at 1.29 million TEU, up 3.6 percent; April at 1.36 million TEU, up 4.4 percent, May at 1.45 million TEU, up 6.2 percent, and June at 1.45 million TEU, up 4.9 percent.

The six months of data projections for 2013 should bring the first half of the year to 8.1 million TEU, up 5.3 percent from the first half of 2012.

“Short to medium-term economic indicators suggest that growth will be sustained but that there will be no breakout into a boom as consumers remain cautious,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “The fourth-quarter decrease in GDP should not be taken as a guide for projecting trade. More relevant was the data from the Department of Commerce that showed net disposable income was up.”

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