Retail Container Traffic Should Be Up 6% in First Half of 2011

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be up 11% in February over the same month last year, and the first half of 2011 should be up 6% over the same period in 2010, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Strong growth in 2010 has retailers cautiously optimistic that the economic recovery is finally taking hold,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “While high unemployment and rising commodity prices are cause for concern, retailers are encouraged by six consecutive months of retail sales gains and improved consumer confidence.”

U.S. ports handled 1.14 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in December, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 7% from November as the holiday season wound down, but up 5% from December 2009. It was the 13th 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.

January remained steady at 1.14 million TEUs, a 6% increase over January 2010. February is forecast at 1.11 million TEUs, up 11% over last year, with March at 1.16, up 8%; April at 1.22 million TEUs, up 7%; May at 1.3 million TEUs, up 3%, and June at 1.37 million TEUs, up 4%.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.3 million TEUs, up 6% from the first half of 2010. That compares with 17% growth in the first half of 2010 over the first half of 2009. For the full year, 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEUs, a 16% increase over 2009. The percentages were high because 2009’s 12.7 million TEUs was the lowest level seen since 2003.

“This year will see the return of the consumer as the main driving force of liner imports despite lingering high unemployment rates,” says Ben Hackett, founder of consulting firm Hackett Associates. “The short-term indicators that drive our model suggest that there will be solid growth this year but our caution is that the rate of growth seen in 2010 will not be repeated. We are projecting that annual growth will be in the 7 to 8% range.”

Global Port Tracker 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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