Retail Container Traffic Rises 8 Percent in January

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be up 8% in January 2011over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“While the economy clearly began to recover in 2010 and drove up cargo volume as retail sales improved, maintaining that momentum in 2011 could be difficult,” says Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy with NRF. “Consumers faced with continued high unemployment are expected to focus more on necessities than discretionary spending. Retailers will continue to carefully gauge consumer demand and adjust import levels accordingly.”

U.S. ports handled 1.23 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in November 2010, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 1.6% from October as stocking up for the holiday season wound down, but up 13% from November 2009. It was the 12th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

December 2010 was estimated at 1.16 million TEUs, a 7% increase over December 2009. January is forecast to stay at that level, but the figure will represent an 8% increase over January 2010. February is forecast at 1.14, up 13% from a year earlier; March at 1.18 million TEUs, up 9%; and April at 1.21, up 7%. May is forecast at 1.24, down 2% from last year.

The first half of 2010 totaled 6.9 million TEUs, up 17% from the same period in 2009. The full year is estimated at 14.8 million TEUs, also up 17%. The 12.7 million TEUs seen in 2009 was the lowest since the 12.5 million TEUs reported in 2003. The 2010 number remains below the 15.2 million TEUs seen in 2008 and the peak of 16.5 million TEUs seen in 2007.

“Our projections for 2011 remain firm, albeit not at the levels of the recovery rates of last year,” says Ben Hackett, founder of consulting firm Hackett Associates. “Growth in the upper single-digit levels can be expected, particularly on the West Coast.”

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