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NRF reports retail container traffic to rise 9% in April

February became 15th straight month to show gains

Pointing to a potentially improving economic trend, import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to be up 9% this month over April 2010, the National Retail Federation reported.

According to its monthly Global Port Tracker, which NRF released today with consulting firm Hackett Associates, which helps produce the report, U.S. ports handled 1.1 million  Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in February, traditionally the slowest month of the year and the latest for which actual numbers are available. That was down 8% from January but up 10% from February 2010. It was the 15th consecutive month to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.

One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

"These numbers are an indication that the economy is recovering and retailers are expecting continued increases in sales through the summer and beyond," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "There are challenges ahead from rising prices for gasoline and other essentials, but inventories are under control and retailers are  optimistic."

March was estimated at 1.2 million TEU, an increase of 11% over March 2010. April is forecast at 1.24 million TEU, up 9% from a year ago; May at 1.32 million TEU, up 4%; June at 1.38 million TEU, up 5%; July at 1.45 million TEU, up 5%; and August at 1.54 million TEU, up 8%.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.4 million TEU, up 8% from the first half of 2010. For the full year, 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16% increase over 2009. Last year's percentages were high because 2009's 12.7 million TEU was the lowest level seen since 2003.

"The economy is slowly on the mend with many of the key short-term indicators providing positive directions," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. "Consumers are buoyed by falling unemployment and are somewhat freer with their money."

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. 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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