Retail container traffic to be flat in January, increasing in spring

A report released Thursday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates said import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports should be nearly flat during January compared with the same month last year, but significant year-over-year increases are expected this spring.

“We’re headed into the slow season for cargo shipments, but forecasts indicate that retailers will be stocking up this spring in anticipation of a moderate recovery as the year progresses,” said NRF VP supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Cargo volume doesn’t translate directly into sales volume, but when retailers import more it’s because they expect to sell more.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2.1% from October, since most holiday merchandise was already on the shelves, but up 1.2% from November 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

December was estimated at 1.21 million TEU, up 5.9% from a year ago. January 2012 is forecast at 1.21 million TEU, up one-tenth of 1% from January 2011. February, historically the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.06 million TEU, down 3.3% from a year ago. March is forecast at 1.2 million TEU, up 10.5% from last year; April at 1.26 million TEU, up 3.8%; and May at 1.3 million TEU, up 0.9%.

The total for 2011 was estimated 14.86 million TEU, up 0.7% from 2010’s 14.75 million TEU.