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NRF: Retail Container Ttraffic Downturn Halts as Stores Prep for Holidays

WASHINGTON - Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is beginning to see cautious increases over last year again, ending a summer-long downturn as retailers prepare for the holiday season, said the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates in their latest monthly Global Port Tracker report.
     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.
     "With the most crucial spending period of the year just weeks away, retailers have made careful decisions on the amount of merchandise they need to properly stock their stores during the holidays," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vp for president for supply chain and customs policy. "This year, retailers have the luxury of importing holiday goods later than last year, which better ensures their inventory levels will accurately meet consumer demand."
     Year-over-year growth is beginning to resume in September, which is forecast to be up 11.8% from September 2010 at 1.5 million TEU. October is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 9.5%; November at 1.33 million TEU, up 8%; and December at 1.2 million TEU, up 4.5%. January 2012 is forecast at 1.19 million TEU, down 1% from January 2011.
     The total for 2011 is forecast at 15.4 million TEU, up 4.3% from 2010. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16% increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.
     Given the seasonal nature of cargo volume and continuing uncertainties about the economy, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett was cautious about cargo volume in 2012.
     "We should not be lulled into too much confidence by the relatively strong import volumes of August and September," Hackett said. "These are linked to the low levels of inventory that needed to be raised to meet the return-to-school and post-Thanksgiving sales. The third quarter will be positive for the ocean carriers and retailers but that will turn into negative growth for the next two to three quarters thereafter."

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