Import cargo at major U.S. retail container ports ended a nearly two-and-a-half-year streak of year-over-year declines in December and is on track to show gains through the first half of 2010, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“These numbers are a clear sign that retailers are optimistic about 2010,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Retailers are still going to be cautious with their inventories, but we wouldn’t see these increases in imports if stores weren’t expecting sales to improve. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen year-over-year volume go up, so this is definitely good news.”
U.S. ports handled 1.09 million TEUs in November, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 8 percent from October, traditionally the busiest month of the year, and 10 percent from November 2008.
The November number marked the 28th month in a row to show a decrease from the same month a year earlier. But the trend was broken in December, which was estimated at 1.08 million TEUs, down slightly from November as the holiday season came to a close, but a 1.7 percent increase over December 2008.
Year-over-year increases are expected to continue through the remainder of Global Port Tracker’s six-month forecast range:
• January is forecast at 1.15 million TEUs, a 9 percent increase over January 2009.
• February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.05 million TEUs, up 25 percent from the previous year.
• March is forecast at 1.16 million TEU, up 21 percent as retailers begin to stock up for spring and summer.
• April at 1.19 million TEUs, up 20 percent.
• May at 1.2 million TEUs, up 15 percent.
While final data won’t be available until next month, the report estimates that 2009 ended with a total volume of 12.7 million TEUs, down 17 percent from 2008’s 15.2 million TEUs and the lowest since the 12.5 million TEUs reported in 2003.
“The U.S. economy is experiencing positive growth, with imports on the rise as a result of restocking and a rising consumer demand,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. “Consumer sentiment remains cautious, however.”