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NRF: Retail container traffic close to flat through July

Washington D.C. - 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 it starts to resume increases later this summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation 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 Jonathan Gold, NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy. "We are confident long-term consumer demand will grow, and that imports will pick up significantly in the fall."

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.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.22 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in April, the latest month for which numbers are available, representing a 12% increase from March and a 7% boost from April 2010. It was the 17th consecutive month to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.

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

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%.

The months of August through October are traditionally the busiest of the year, as retailers stock up during that time for the holiday season.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.2 million TEU, up 5% from the first half of 2010. Because Global Port Tracker forecasts only six months beyond actual numbers, 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," said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. "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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