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NRF: Retail imports expected to drop in typically-slow February

Washington - As the shipping cycle reaches its slowest month of the year, import volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to drop 8.4% in February on a year-over-year basis.

According to National Retail Federation's monthly Global Port Tracker report, which was released today by NRF and Hackett Associates, the dip in activity will be short-lived.

""Retailers will be moving spring merchandise toward their shelves in just a few weeks, and early numbers point to a busy season ahead," explained Jonathan Gold, NRF's vp for supply chain and customs policy.

The U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker include: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

Collectively, these ports handled 1.3 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 3.3% from November as the holiday season came to an end but up 0.6% from December 2012. The December numbers brought 2013 to a total of 16.2 million TEU, up 2.3 % from 2012's 15.8 million TEU.

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

January was estimated at 1.37 million TEU, up 4.5% from January 2013. February, historically the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.17 million TEU, down 8.4% from the same month last year. March is forecast at 1.29 million TEU, up 13.7% from last year; April at 1.39 million TEU, up 6.9%; May at 1.45 million TEU, up 4.2%; and June at 1.43 million TEU, up 5.6%. Those numbers would total 8.1 million TEU for the first half of the year, up 4.3% over last year.

The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting 4.1% sales growth in 2014, contingent on how Washington policies on economic issues affect consumer confidence.

"On the consumer side, there is continued hesitancy in spending as net disposable income remains virtually flat," noted Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. "As a result, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains stubbornly high."

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