Upturn Forecast for Import Cargo Volume

After more than two and a half years of year-over-year declines, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to see three straight months of gains in early 2010.

WASHINGTON — After more than two and a half years of year-over-year declines, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to see three straight months of gains in early 2010, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation here and IHS Global Insight.

"We've been seeing hints of a turnaround in our past few reports but this is starting to look like a clear trend," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. "If retailers are starting to import more merchandise, it's because they expect to be able to sell more and that's a good sign for our industry and the overall economy."

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.18 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in October, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent. October volume was up 4% from September as retailers hit their busiest shipping month of the year as the holiday season approached, but nonetheless down 14% from October 2008 and marked the 28th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline.

Estimates indicate volume will continue down from the previous year's level until February 2010, when cargo is expected to total 972,391 TEU. The figure is below the 1 million mark because February is the slowest month of the year, but would be a 16% increase over February 2009.

The uptick in import volume is expected to continue in March 2010, forecast at 1.02 million TEU, a 6% increase over March 2009, and April 2010, forecast at 1.08 million TEU, a 9% increase over April 2010.

The report expects 2009 to end with a total volume of 12.6 million TEU, a drop of 17% from last year's 15.2 million TEU and the lowest since the 12.47 million TEU imported in 2003.

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