The outlook for U.S. container trade volumes this year is improving, according to Journal of Commerce Economist Mario Moreno, who is raising his forecasts for overall imports and exports for 2013 after reviewing first quarter container volume results from PIERS, a JOC sister company.
Moreno increased his forecast for year-over-year growth in container imports to 4.2 percent from the previous 2.6 percent. “Retailers began to restock inventories at higher levels than expected in the first quarter,” he said. “The strong increase in auto sales and housing also contributed.”
Despite the Commerce Department revising downward U.S. first quarter GDP growth to 1.8 percent from 2.4 percent earlier, “the U.S. is still muddling along better than Europe,” Moreno said.
He boosted his export forecast to 2 percent year-over-year from the previous 1.9 percent pace. First quarter export growth of 0.8 percent was positive, in contrast to the earlier forecast of a decline of 3.8 percent. “Although first quarter exports to Asia and Europe were weak, the growth in exports to the Mediterranean was very strong at 8.7 percent,” he said. The revised forecasts are included in the the JOC's report entitled Container Shipping Outlook June 2013.
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On the trans-Pacific, Moreno increased his import forecast to 3 percent from the previous estimate of 2 percent. He also boosted his forecast for U.S. exports to Asia on the trans-Pacific to 3.9 percent from 3.7 percent.
Trans-Atlantic imports from North Europe are expected to grow 5.4 percent year-over-year, compared to 2.3 percent under the previous forecast. “I had expected first quarter imports from Europe to drop by 2 percent, but they were up 1 percent,” he said.
He also revised his forecast for U.S. exports to northern Europe in 2013 upward to a year-over-year pace of 1.8 percent from the previous drop of 5 percent because of the stronger-than-expected growth in the first quarter.
The growth forecast for U.S. imports from the Mediterranean region increased to 8 percent from 5.5 percent. Exports to the Mediterranean are now expected to increase 8 percent, compared to the previous 2 percent forecast.
Moreno forecast a decline in trade volumes between the U.S. and South America’s east coast markets this year because the sharp decline in U.S. trade with Venezuela is dragging down overall volumes. U.S. imports from Venezuela fell 22 percent in the first quarter.
He lowered his forecast for U.S. imports from the east coast of South America to a decline of 0.5 percent year-over-year, compared to his previous forecast of 6 percent growth. “It’s all because of the Venezuela trade flows, where imports dropped by 22 percent in the first quarter,” he said.
He changed his forecast for exports to the east coast of South America to a drop of 5 percent from the previous growth of 2 percent for the same reason. U.S. exports to Venezuela dropped 26 percent in the first quarter.
By contrast Moreno expects U.S. imports from the west coast of South America will increase 12 percent because of the strong rebound in imports from Peru and Chile, mostly of refrigerated fresh produce. He forecast U.S. exports to west coast markets will grow by a relatively flat 0.5 percent year-over-year, but only because export volumes last year were so strong. “They will still be strong this year, but they are not growing as fast as last year,” he said.