Retail Container Traffic Will be Flat in January

Now that the Christmas shopping season is over, import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports will be nearly flat during January compared with the same month last year, but significant year-over-year increases are expected this spring, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“We’re headed into the slow season for cargo shipments, but forecasts indicate that retailers will be stocking up this spring in anticipation of a moderate recovery as the year progresses,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Cargo volume doesn’t translate directly into sales volume, but when retailers import more it’s because they expect to sell more.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2.1% from October since most holiday merchandise was already on the shelves but up 1.2% from November 2010. One TEUs is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

December was estimated at 1.21 million TEUs, up 5.9% from a year ago. January 2012 is forecast at 1.21 million TEUs, up one-tenth of 1% from January 2011. February, historically the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.06 million TEUs, down 3.3% from a year ago. March is forecast at 1.2 million TEUs, up 10.5% from last year; April at 1.26 million TEUs, up 3.8%; and May at 1.3 million TEUs, up 0.9%.

The total for 2011 was estimated 14.86 million TEUs, up 0.7% from 2010’s 14.75 million TEUs.

“Continuing uncertainty and the run-up to the elections raise a cloud, as does the pressure on declining incomes as firms hire at lower rates,” says Ben Hackett, founder of consulting firm Hackett Associates. “Nevertheless, the consumer managed to increase savings during most of 2011 and now has a tidy safety net from which to increase consumption as the risk of unemployment recedes. All of these indicators suggest that we are not heading for another recession, but rather for a sustained level of low growth.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by 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.

Related Article: Retail Traffic Sees Final Push for the Holidays

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