Retail Container Traffic Will Be Up in 2012

Feb. 21, 2012
Import cargo volume at U.S. retail container ports is expected to be down 6.8% in February, but should show year-over-year increases through the remaining first half of 2012.

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be down 6.8% in February from the same month a year ago, but should show year-over-year increases through most of the remaining first half of 2012, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“With consumer confidence building, retailers are optimistic that the economy is recovering but are continuing to be cautious with their inventory levels,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Merchants want to be sure that growth will be sustained and that demand will be there to meet supply.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.17 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in December, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 6% from November since holiday merchandise was already on the shelves but up 2% from December 2010, and brought 2011 to a close at 14.8 million TEUs, up 0.4% from 2010’s 14.75 million TEUs. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

January 2012 was estimated at 1.17 million TEUs, down 3.3% from January 2011, and February, historically the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.03 million TEUs, down 6.8% from a year ago. Increases are expected to resume in March, forecast at 1.18 million TEUs, up 8.6% from last year. April is forecast at 1.25 million TEUs, up 2.4%; May at 1.28 million TEUs, down 0.7%; and June at 1.28 million, up 3%. The first half of 2012 should total 7.18 million TEUs, up 0.5% from the same period last year.

“Current statistics suggest that the economy will continue to improve as we continue into 2012,” says Ben Hackett, founder of consulting firm Hackett Associates. “The question is will wholesalers and retailers be able to manage their inventories as well as they did in 2011? Most likely, yes.”

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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