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Retail container traffic almost flat through July

BY Brae Canlen

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to remain at about the same levels as last year through July before starting to resume increases later this summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“With rising gas prices and challenges in the labor and housing markets, consumer spending has slowed and retailers have adjusted their inventory levels accordingly,” said the NRF’s VP supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “We are confident long-term consumer demand will grow and that imports will pick up significantly in the fall.” 

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.22 million 20-ft. Equivalent Units in April, the latest month for which numbers are available. (One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.) That was up 12% from March and 7% from April 2010. It was the 17th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. 

May was estimated at 1.27 million TEU, only one-third of 1% over May 2010. June is forecast at 1.33 million TEU, a 1% increase from a year ago; July at 1.39 million TEU, up one-half of 1% from last year; August at 1.47 million TEU, up 3%; September at 1.49 million TEU, up 12%; and October at 1.54 million TEU, up 19%. August through October are traditionally the busiest months of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.2 million TEU, up 5% from the first half of 2010. Global Port Tracker forecasts only six months beyond actual numbers, so a forecast for the full year is not yet available. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16% increase over 2009.

“2011 is turning out to be an uncertain year for shipping,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “The good news for the coming few months is that inventories are too low, which will generate shipping demand as the supply chain moves to re-stock, albeit cautiously.”

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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index

BY HBSDEALER Staff

 

A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for June 17, 2011

*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.

Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.  

LUMBER: SPF mills’ inability to sell at rates equaling production levels eroded order files, generating some negotiated deals. Wholesalers with positions continued to sell at prices $10 below replacement costs. Southern Pine lumber producers continued to struggle to sell production, leaving them open to negotiated price levels. Treaters purchased multiple carload volumes from several producers, but it was not enough to firm prices. Demand remained at a high enough level to push Coastal species lumber prices $5 to $10 higher. Dry Douglas Fir remained a big draw. Green Doug Fir prices were firm to higher. A combination of quiet markets is giving Inland species lumber some pause. This is affecting Hem-Fir considerably more than Fir-Larch, on the basis that Fir-Larch is thinly produced right now. Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr is unchanged in price, in either 5/4 or 6/4, and #2&Btr Shop is very firm and holding its price levels. Both #3 Shop and P99 are strong, with price increases. Commons show an odd inversion between #2 and #3 Common. In #2 Common, wides are easier to sell than narrows, while in the #3 Common, narrows are moving easier than wides. Idaho White Pine is generally not available in any volume until the middle of July. Improved weather has given the Eastern White Pine market a little boost, but mills are holding strictly to their projected production volumes. Western Red Cedar buyers purchased volumes corresponding with takeaways. As has been the case for several weeks, there was very little price movement. Mills focused production on the broad demands of customers, negotiating price when buildups occurred.

PANELS: Although not as strong as the week prior, sales activity in the Western Fir plywood market did tick up a notch at midweek. Sales activity increased in the Southern Pine plywood market, firming prices. Distributors and retailers were active, while wholesalers tended to cover shorts and fill their customers’ immediate needs. Most of the OSB industry continues to report that "flat" is the term for the marketplace. Even so, a few attempts at raising prices have been made, all by producers, with varying degrees of success. Canadian plywood continues to be basically weak, without strong mill order files or underlying support from the marketplace. Selling levels have been based on the current C$290 mark, but a few sales above and below that number have been made. One key particleboard and MDF distributor commented that the composite market is seeing "no increases in price or demand," which captures much of the situation. 

Source: RISI’s Crow’s Weekly Market Report

For more on RISI, click here.

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HIRI takes second look at economic forecast

BY HBSDealer Staff

The Interim Report on the Economic Outlook and the Home Improvement Products Market for May 2011 lowered some forecasts for key metrics, raised others and maintained its core forecast.

The report, conducted for the Home Improvement Research Institute by IHS Global Insight, downwardly revised its 2011 housing starts forecast to 630,000. The February forecast had called for 680,000 starts in 2011. The 2012 forecast was also lowered from 1.10 million to 1.02 million.

Despite the lowered forecasts, recovery efforts from major storms will boost sales in 2011, according to IHS. Also, the existing-home sales forecast for 2011 was raised by IHS to 5.25 million, up from 5.06 million. 

"We have not altered our basic view that 2011 will be a year of modest growth for home improvement product sales."

Also lowered was the forecast for GDP growth — from 3.2% to 2.9%.

HIRI is the industry’s leading source for original research. It is an independent, not-for-profit membership organization comprised of more than 80 forward-thinking companies.

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