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Global Port Tracker: Retailers Remain Cautious on Merchandise Imports

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Import volume at the largest U.S. containerized retail cargo handling ports should increase 1.1 percent in June, reflecting modest growth expectations as retailers head toward the back-to-school and holiday seasons, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released June 10 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

"With the economic recovery moving slowly, retailers are being cautious this summer and could hold off on stocking up for the holiday season until fall," said Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "We aren't expecting significant increases for imports until October, when retailers will have a better idea of what to expect for holiday demand."

Global Port Tracker’s conclusions are based on a survey and analysis of inbound container traffic flows at the ports of Charleston, Hampton Roads, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Oakland, Port Everglades, Savannah, Seattle and Tacoma.

These ports handled 1.31 million TEUs in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 14.6 percent from March but down 0.1 percent from April 2012.  May is estimated at 1.4 million TEUs, up 2.2 percent from a year ago. Future month forecasts: June – 1.4 million TEUs (+1.1 percent); July – 1.44 million TEUs (+1.9 percent); August – 1.43 million TEUs (+0.5 percent); September – 1.42 million TEUs (+0.8 percent); and October – 1.45 million TEUs (+7.9 percent).

"We are witnessing a period of import trade growth that is running more or less in sync with the U.S. economic expansion. Unfortunately, both are anemic," said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett. "The impact of this extremely cautious consumer spending is that we expect import consumption to remain weak for the coming four to six months."  

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