Retailers are “carefully stocking up,” which indicates that containerized imports should continue to increase into mid-year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released on Monday.
“Retailers only import more if they expect to sell more, so these numbers are a sign that optimism is growing,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. The Global Port Tracker is published each month by the NRF and Hackett Associates.
The report projects that containerized imports in March will increase 10 percent compared to March 2011. Imports are projected to be up 3.6 percent in April, flat in May, up 4.2 percent in June and up 2.8 percent in July compared to the same months last year.
For January, the last month for which Global Port Tracker had actual numbers, imports increased 1.3 percent compared to January 2011. The January imports were up 4.4 percent from December 2011. February imports were projected to be down 4.2 percent from February 2011 due to the closure of factories in Asia for the annual Chinese New Year celebration.
Global Port Tracker projects that imports in the first half of 2012 will increase 2.4 percent from the same period last year. NRF projects that for the calendar year, retail sales in the U.S. will grow 3.4 percent to $2.53 trillion.
Despite the projected increase in container volume, carriers still face excess capacity in 2012 as large new vessels are delivered into their global fleets. Nevertheless, carriers are attempting to implement selected rate increases after another year of financial losses in 2011. The result could be another year of volatile freight rates.
“The maritime industry is in a quandary,” Hackett said. “As long as this imbalance exists, there will be volatility in the freight rates,” he said.