International economic woes and a domestic fiscal crisis cloud the outlook for Georgia's ports, a top official says.
Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said he's "extremely cautious" about market conditions over the next eight months.
There already has been some slippage, Foltz said on Monday at a ports authority board meeting.
Overall tonnage was down 5.6 percent in October compared to the same month a year before and was "flat" over the four months that ended Oct. 31.
In contrast, business was "fairly strong" during the first half of 2012, Foltz reported.
His comments coincided with an otherwise upbeat trend at the maritime commerce hub.
Federal officials have given final approval for harbor deepening and Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged $50 million more in state money for the project.
Port operations support an estimated 350,000 Georgia jobs, so any downturn could send ripples throughout the state's economy.
Foltz said October doldrums were due partly to worries about a possible International Longshoreman's Association strike that's been averted -- for now.
Shipping delays due to superstorm Sandy also depressed volume, he said.
But the biggest ongoing issues, according to Foltz, stem from a gloomy economic climate.
"Global market conditions continue to weaken while the U.S. economy remains very uncertain as we enter 2013," he said.
Foltz cited "uncertain direction" in the domestic consumer and manufacturing sectors and a "troubling" federal government debt crisis.
"Europe," he added, "remains very unstable and lower consumer demand throughout the European community will negatively affect ... shipping ... and ... Chinese economic growth."
Moreover, he said, unresolved ILA issues remain, and that could be a drag on East Coast shipping traffic "well into the first quarter of 2013."
But even though port revenues were lower than budgeted for the four months ending Oct. 31, that was mostly offset by cutting expenses, he said.
And the executive director speculated that good news may be just around the corner.
"The economy is poised for recovery," he said.
Authority board members didn't discuss Foltz's comments during the meeting.
He said his staff will "monitor conditions very closely and adjust operations as necessary to maintain our business strength."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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