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US retailers remain cautious on merchandise imports
Jun '13
Import volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 1.1 percent in June over the same month last year, reflecting modest growth expectations as retailers head toward the back-to-school and holiday seasons, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released 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,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “We aren’t expecting significant increases for imports until October, when retailers will have a better idea of what to expect for holiday demand.”

Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of cargo containers brought into the country, not the value of the merchandise inside them. But the amount of merchandise imported nonetheless provides a rough barometer of retailers’ expectations.

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.31 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 14.6 percent from an unusually slow March but down 0.1 percent from April 2012. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

May was estimated at 1.4 million TEU, up 2.2 percent from a year ago. June is forecast at 1.4 million TEU, up 1.1 percent from last year; July at 1.44 million TEU, up 1.9 percent; August at 1.43 million TEU, up 0.5 percent; September at 1.42 million TEU, up 0.8 percent; and October at 1.45 million TEU, up 7.9 percent.

The first six months of 2013 are expected to total 7.8 million TEU, up 1.9 percent from the first half of 2012. The total for 2012 was 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9 percent from 2011.

“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,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “The impact of this extremely cautious consumer spending is that we expect import consumption to remain weak for the coming four to six months.”

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

National Retail Federation

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