Retail Traffic Sees Final Push for the Holidays

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports should be up 0.3% in December compared with the same month last year as retailers head to the finish line of the holiday shopping season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

“The uptick we’re expecting for December isn’t large at all but it comes after several months where retailers had reduced their imports from last year, so it’s a positive sign by comparison,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are placing a cautious bet that consumer demand is increasing.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.28 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 3.5% from the peak for the year hit in September, and down 5% from October 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

November was estimated at 1.18 million TEUs, down 4.4% from a year ago, while December is forecast at 1.15 million TEUs, up 0.3% from last year. After the holidays, January 2012 is forecast at 1.15 million TEUs, down 4.8% from January 2011. February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.04 million TEUs, down 5.7%; March is expected to see 1.17 million TEUs, an increase of 7%; and April is forecast at 1.22 million TEUs, the same as last year.

The total for 2011 is forecast at 14.73 million TEUs, down one-tenth of 1% from last year’s 14.75 million TEUs.

Global Port Tracker counts only the number of cargo containers imported, not the value of their contents, so cargo volume does not directly correlate with retail sales. NRF is forecasting 2.8% growth in holiday sales during November and December over last year, for a total of $465.6 billion.

“We expect to see a mini-resurgence in December,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “With consumer spending on the rise, it would seem that the pace of retail sales will continue through to the New Year’s sales at least.”

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.

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