Inbound shipments were down 8.9 percent in September compared with a year earlier - and a bit worse than at the Port of L.A. Outbound shipments were off 4.7 percent. The sluggish numbers raise obvious questions about holiday sales - even though analysts expect a decent - though not robust - season. From the WSJ:
To be sure, some retailers are running heavy on inventory this fall, and others say they are planning for higher sales this Christmas. But the California ports--which bring in a range of goods, from clothing to electronics and furniture, primarily from China--may offer a better indication of retailers' posture, since they effectively aggregate shipping data from across the industry. Retailers wary of weak consumer sentiment have placed conservative orders that, in many cases, are equal to or below last year's levels. Meanwhile, they're closely watching which items sell well, with an eye toward "chasing" best sellers and stocking them in time for the holiday crowds.
Meanwhile, consulting firm Hackett Associates has reduced its shipping forecast between now and the end of 2011. From the LAT:
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said that it could have been much worse. "General economic indicators are giving us a mixed set of signals," Hackett said. "Yet at the same time there are indications that things are not quite that bad. We are of the opinion that the probability for economic growth is higher than the probability of recession."
The Federal Reserve's 12th District, which covers the West, reports that economic activity grew at a moderate pace in September, with retail sales and manufacturing showing improvement. Other parts of the country reported slower growth. Bottom line: The economy is still weak, but it's not contracting. (Bloomberg)