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NRF: Retail container traffic to increase 8% this month

Washington, D.C. – Import cargo volume at the country’s major retail container ports is expected to rise 8% this month compared with April 2009, and solid increases are expected to continue through the summer as the U.S. economy improves, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Retail sales are starting to improve and retailers are importing merchandise in the quantities they need to meet that demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vp for supply chain and customs policy. “We expect these numbers to continue to climb as merchants and their customers move away from the recession and back toward normal shopping habits.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of: Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

In February, the latest month for which actual numbers are available, U.S. ports handled 1.01 million 20-foot equivalent units. This represents a 6% decline from January, as shipping hit a traditionally slow season. But, more optimistically, February traffic was 20% higher than the unusually low numbers seen during February 2009.

Additionally, February was the third month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year monthly declines.

March shipments are estimated at 1.02 million TEU – 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent – which would be a 6% increase over last year as spring products began to head for store shelves.

The April forecast is 1.07 million TEU, or an 8% hike from last year.

Looking further ahead: May’s estimate is set to increase by 7% to 1.12 million TEU; June at 1.18 million TEU, up 17%; July at 1.24 million TEU, a 12% increase; and August is expected to see a 15% rise to 1.32 million TEU.

Traffic for the first half of 2010 is expected to total 6.5 million TEU, up 10%. By comparison, imports for 2009 totaled 12.7 million TEU, down 17% from 2008’s 15.2 million TEU and the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003.

The forecast for first-half growth has been trimmed from the 17% increase projected a month ago as more recent data becomes available.

 “Port volumes have begun to rebound and we expect growth to continue going forward,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Retailers were maintaining lean inventories during the recession but are carefully building back up.” 

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