NRF: 2010 retail container traffic expected to be up 15%

Washington, D.C. A report released late Thursday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said that import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to total 14.5 million containers for 2010. That’s a 15% increase over last year’s unusually low numbers, according to the findings of the monthly Global Port Tracker report.

“We aren’t back to where we were two years ago and consumers aren’t convinced that the recession is over quite yet, but 2010 is clearly going to finish better than last year,” said Jonathan Gold, VP supply chain and customs policy for NRF. “In the meantime, retailers are monitoring demand very closely and hoping to see increases in employment and other areas that will boost consumer confidence.”

Gold added that cargo numbers this summer are showing unusually high percentage increases, but “that appears to be an indication of shortages in shipping capacity earlier in the year rather than sales expectations.”

U.S. ports handled 1.32 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in June, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 4% from May and 30% from June 2009. It was the seventh month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. (One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.)

July was estimated at 1.38 million TEU, a 25% increase over last year. The Port Tracker report said that August is forecast at 1.32 million TEU, up 14% from last year; September also at 1.32 million TEU, up 16%; October at 1.31 million TEU, up 10%; November at 1.19 million TEU, up 9%; and December at 1.12 million TEU, up 2%.

According to the report, the double-digit increases in June and July appear to be the result of backlogs built up due to the lack of shipping capacity earlier in the year after ship owners took vessels out of service during the recession and were slow to return them as the economy began to pick up.

With many retailers appearing to bring merchandise in early to avoid any further bottlenecks, the report indicated that July is likely to be the peak shipping month for 2010 rather than the traditional rush of holiday season merchandise in October.

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