Retail Container Traffic to be Up 9% in December, 17% for the 2010

Retail Editor 5, December 15, 2010

Washington D.C. - On the heels of its announcement that it was raising its holiday sales forecast due to better-than-expected results, the National Retail Federation said it has found further proof of an improving economy: increasing import cargo volume.

According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the NRF and Hackett Associates, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to be up 9% in December over the same month last year, and 2010 should end with a 17% increase over last year.

"The nation's improving economy has been reflected in the amount of merchandise imported by retailers this year," said Jonathan Gold, vp for supply chain and customs policy. "We haven't fully recovered from the recession, and we still need more job creation to get consumer confidence back where it should be. But import levels have seen solid increases throughout the year and we expect that to continue in 2011. Cargo volume doesn't translate directly to sales, but these trends are certainly in line with what we've experienced with monthly retail sales and this year's holiday season."

U.S. ports handled 1.34 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in October, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was unchanged from September but up 13% from October 2009. It was the 11th consecutive month to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. November was estimated at 1.25 million TEU, a 15 percent increase over last year.

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

The forecasts for 2011 are also positive. December is forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 9% from last year. January 2011 is expected to hit 1.16 million TEU, up 8% from January 2010. For February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, a 10% increase over last year to 1.1 million TEU is projected. March is forecast at 1.14 million TEU, a 6% increase, and April at 1.18 million TEU, up 4%.

The first half of 2010 totaled 6.9 million TEU, a 17% gain over the same period last year. The full year is forecast at 14.6 million TEU, also a 17% increase from the 12.7 million TEU seen 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.

As volume increases in 2011, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said retailers could see higher costs from "slow steaming," a practice of operating ships more slowly instituted by ocean carriers for both environmental and economic reasons.

"Shippers have not benefitted from slow steaming," Hackett said. "The increased round-trip voyage time has a direct impact on the time cost of goods. As a result, costs have gone up along the whole supply chain with increased inventory and transportation costs."

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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