NRF: Retailer Container Traffic Expected to Keep Increasing

WASHINGTON - The National Retail Federation said import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to be up 11% this month over last year.
     Volume should continue to see strong year-over-year growth, "even as seasonal levels wind down through the remainder of 2010," according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released last week by the NRF and Hackett Associates.
     "Cargo is still coming through, but retailers are mostly stocked up for the holiday season," explained Jonathan Gold, NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy. "Retailers aren't going to say the recession is behind them until their customers tell them it is, but we are hoping to see some sustainable economic growth over the next several weeks. The goal is that inventory levels will match sales as closely as possible."
     U.S. ports handled 1.42 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in August, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 3% from July and up 23% from August 2009.
     One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. This past August was the ninth consecutive month to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over- year declines.
October has long been the busiest month of the year because it when retailers typically stock up on merchandise for the holiday season. But the peak shifted to August this year - a change that came "both because of a backlog in cargo from earlier in the year after ocean carriers were slow to replace vessels taken out of service during the recession, and because retailers brought merchandise into the country early to avoid the risk of delays this fall," the NRF said.
"Trade, particularly imports, is a strong indicator that recovery is sustainable" -BEN HACKETT, Hackett Associate
September was estimated at 1.37 million TEU, a 20% increase over last year. October is forecast at 1.32 million TEU, up 11% from last year; November at 1.21 million TEU, also up 11%; and December at 1.12 million TEU, up 3%. January 2011 is forecast at 1.09 million TEU, an 8% increase from January 2010, and February 2011 is projected at 992,848 TEU, down 1% from February 2010.
     The first half of 2010 totaled 6.9 million TEU, up 17% from the same period last year. The full year is forecast at 14.7 million TEU, which would be a 16% hike from the 12.7 million TEU in 2009, which was the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003. The 2010 number remains below the 15.2 million TEU seen in 2008 and the peak of 16.5 million TEU seen in 2007.
     "Trade, particularly imports, is a strong indicator that recovery is sustainable," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. "We continue to expect the fourth quarter to be seasonally weak, perhaps slightly more so than in the past because the peak has shifted to an earlier month, but it will nonetheless have been a good year."
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of: Long Angeles/ Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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