Forecasting a total rise in imports for 2016 is proving a difficult task, considering the special circumstances of 2015. The start of the year was rife with inclement weather delays on the East Coast and labor issues on the West Coast that have skewed numbers to show a stronger March and April of 2015 than was actually accounted by real traffic. While February 2015 was weak because of the aforementioned issues, the rebound was massive. However, if we look at year-over-year numbers through 2014 volume growth is strong at 14%.
“Last year was a roller coaster, but this year we’re expecting a nice, steady climb right through the summer,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “We’re finally getting back to normal patterns as cargo builds up toward the back-to-school season and eventually the holiday season. Despite the year-over-year comparisons, these are still strong numbers.”
The information for March is proving to be the most complex, as volume is down 22.1% from last year’s surge. April and May predictions show a smaller drop at 0.8% and 2.1% respectively as the information for 2015 balances out from the unusual circumstances behind the jump. The final 2016 forecast shows a steady rise of 5.3% over 2015, to nearly 21 million TEUs, which is almost exactly the rise 2015 showed over 2014, despite the rocky start.
“The metrics that we track show significant improvements including manufacturing indexes in the U.S. and China,” said Daniel Hackett, a partner at Hackett Associates. “Meanwhile, the numbers coming in on the East Coast are stronger than we anticipated.” Mr. Hackett further explained that the shifting New Year holiday, which briefly shuts down factories in China, may further exacerbate big swings early in first quarter information. He advised a “truly fair and representative” comparison of yearly trends would take another month.