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US retail ports expect 11% import growth in March

Import cargo volume at United States’ major retail container ports is expected to be up 11 percent in March over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“These numbers show solid increases over last year and are evidence that our nation’s economic recovery is continuing to build momentum,” NRF vice- president for supply chain and Customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “Increases in imports are a clear sign that retailers expect sales to continue to climb in the next several months.”

US ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.2 million TEUs in January, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up five percent from December and 12 percent from January 2010. It was the 14th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.

February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, was estimated at 1.12 million TEUs, which would represent an increase of 12 percent over February 2010. March is forecast at 1.19 million TEUs, up 11 percent from a year ago; April at 1.24 million TEUs, up nine percent; May at 1.32 million TEUs, up five percent; June at 1.39 million TEUs, up five percent; and July at 1.45 million TEUs, up five percent.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.5 million TEUs, up nine percent from the first half of 2010. For the full year 2010 it totalled 14.7 million TEUs, a 16 percent increase over 2009. Last year’s percentages was high because 2009’s 12.7 million TEUs was the lowest level seen since 2003.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said recent political turmoil in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere is driving up oil prices and will likely increase shipping costs.

“Oil supply is going down as a number of nations have dropped out of the production cycle,” Hackett said. “Freight rates have been decreasing but that will not last long as fuel costs are factored in.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the US ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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