Global Port Tracker projects an 8.5 percent surge in containerized imports this month over February 2012 despite uncertainties surrounding labor negotiations on both the East and West coasts and a decline in fourth quarter 2012 gross domestic product.
The publication of the National Retail Federation and Ben Hackett Associates is also optimistic that growth in U.S. imports will continue through the first half of the year.
“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,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.
The final containerized import numbers for December are in, and they show an increase of 2.8 percent over November 2012 and an increase of 8 percent from December 2011. Global Port Tracker calculates the calendar year 2012 growth at 2.9 percent.
Hackett and the NRF see stronger growth ahead in 2013. They project imports will increase 4.6 percent in January, 8.5 percent in February, 3.6 percent in March, 4.4 percent in April, 6.2 percent in May and 4.9 percent in June year-over-year.
Global Port Tracker projects containerized imports in the first six months of 2013 will increase 5.3 percent over the same period last year.
Uncertainty and mixed messages continue on the labor scene. The International Longshoremen’s Association and waterfront employers on the East Coast announced a tentative settlement on a new coastwide master contract for container carriers calling at ports from Maine to Texas.
However, the master contract will not be officially ratified until negotiators wrap up local issues at various ports, with New York-New Jersey being the prime local contract.
Negotiations involving the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 in Los Angeles-Long Beach have been on a seesaw ride. The negotiations were marked by an eight-day strike in late November to early December, a threat of federal mediation, and then an agreement on a tentative contract reached on Dec. 4.
However, the members of the 16 OCU bargaining units voted on the tentative contract on Wednesday, and they rejected it. Cargo handling has not been affected in Los Angeles-Long Beach, but the direction of negotiations has not been determined.
The recent announcement that the GDP declined slightly in the fourth quarter of 2012 was troubling for some, but Hackett said relatively strong economic indicators in various sectors, including an increase in net disposable income, should overshadow any concerns about the GDP number.