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NRF: Import volume to slow down this summer

Washington D.C. - While import volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to rise by 3.3% in May over a year ago, the National Retail Federation warned further growth could be stunted by summer's end by the sluggish economy.

"The weak cargo increases expected over the next few months are consistent with other signs that the economy is slowly improving but show that retailers remain cautious, especially when it comes to stocking their inventories," explained NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold in the most recent monthly Global Port Tracker report, released today by NRF and Hackett Associates.

"We're looking at barely 1% of year-over-year growth through the early summer, and August and September are expected to be basically flat even though they're supposed to be two of the busiest months of the year," Gold added.

Cargo import numbers do not predict retail sales and don't reflect the value of the merchandise inside the containers. But NRF considers container volume a rough yardstick by which to measure retailers' expectations.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

Collectively, these ports handled 1.14 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 10.9% from February and 8.6% from March 2012.

One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

The first six months of 2013 are expected to total 7.8 million TEU, up 2% from the first half of 2012. The total for 2012 was 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9% from 2011.

"Despite the Fed pumping liquidity into the market, consumer confidence still has not turned the corner," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. "We need to see the economy strengthen in the coming quarters before we can begin to see the threat of a further economic downturn dissipating. Trade will remain at low growth levels until we reach this stage."


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