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Retail container traffic to rise 2.6% in October

A report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said that import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 2.6% in October over the same month last year and should reach its highest level of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season.

“After a summer of trying to compare apples to oranges, retail cargo is back to normal,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF VP supply chain and customs policy. “October is the historic peak of the shipping cycle each year, and retailers are bringing merchandise into the country on their usual schedule and at normal levels again instead of being forced to move cargo early. Retailers are poised to succeed in maintaining the careful balance between inventory and sales that keeps customers happy while keeping retailers profitable.” 

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.32 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in August, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was the same as July, but down 7% from August 2010. One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.

The August figures followed year-over-year declines of 5% in June and 4% in July, but the statistics were skewed because of higher-than-normal numbers in 2010, when fears of shortages in shipping capacity caused many retailers to bring holiday merchandise into the country earlier than usual. 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.

Year-over-year cargo growth resumed but was weak in September, which was estimated at 1.37 million TEU, up 2.7% from last year. October is forecast at 1.39 million TEU, up 2.6% from last year, and is expected to regain its historical position as the busiest month of the year after last year’s usual patterns shifted the peak to August. November is forecast at 1.28 million TEU, up 4%, and December is forecast at 1.18 million TEU, up 2.7%. January 2012 is forecast at 1.16 million TEU, down 3.6% from January 2011; and February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.1 million TEU, down 3.8%.

The total for 2011 is forecast at 15 million TEU, up 1.8% from 2010. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16% increase over unusually low numbers in 2009.


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