Import cargo volume at the nation's major 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 Jan. 11 by the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
"These numbers are a clear sign that retailers are optimistic about 2010," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. "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."
Year-over-year increases are expected to continue through the remainder of Global Port Tracker's six-month forecast range, according to the report. January is forecast at 1.15 million twenty-foot equivalent units (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 TEUs, up 21 percent as retailers begin to stock up for spring and summer; April at 1.19 million TEUs, up 20 percent; and May at 1.20 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 total volume since 2003's 12.5 million TEUs.
"The U.S. economy is experiencing positive growth, with imports on the rise as a result of re-stocking and a rising consumer demand," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said in the statement. "Consumer sentiment remains cautious, however."