Industry analyst Hackett Associates expects volumes to increase in coming months, but freight rates to fall.
The latest “Port Tracker” report shows a record 1.73 million TEUs were handled at the twelve U.S. ports it follows in March 2015, 33.1 percent more than in March 2014, and 44.9 percent more than in February 2015.
The report, prepared for the National Retail Federation by Hackett Associates, said container volumes were “driven up by a sudden surge of backlogged cargo from vessels that were sitting at anchor waiting to be discharged after the labor dispute ended,” referring to contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association, which resulted in a tentative labor agreement in February. The results of a vote on the contract by ILWU members will be announced this month.
The report estimates that in April, 1.55 million TEU were handled, an 8.1 percent increase from April 2014.
The report predicts volumes will be higher in coming months when compared to the same month in 2014: May is forecast at 1.56 million TEUs, up 5.4 percent ; June at 1.53 million TEUs, up 3.7 percent; July at 1.57 million TEUs, up 5.1 percent; August at 1.58 million TEUs, up 3.9 percent; and September at 1.6 million TEUs, up 1.1 percent.
The first half of 2015 is forecast at a total of 8.8 million TEUs, an increase of 6 percent over the same period last year.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the strong increases in volume are coming as ship owners are launching an excessive number of large new vessels that could lead to a price war on shipping rates.
“This upsets the supply/demand balance,” Hackett said. “There is not enough demand to justify this level of capacity increase. Expect rates on both coastal services to fall to all-time lows.”
Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Houston.