December was a good month for the ports, as retail container traffic saw an end to a nearly two-and-a-half-year streak of year-over-year declines.
December container volumes were at 1.08 TEU, a 1.7 percent boost over December 2008.
Container volumes are expected to see positive growth through the first half of 2010, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
"Retailers are still going to be cautious with their inventories, but we wouldn't see these increases in imports if stores weren't expecting sales to improve," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "It's been a long time since we've seen year-over-year volume go up, so this is definitely good news."
In November, the ports handled 1.09 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, down 8 percent from October and 10 percent below the year-ago month. But the holiday season brought some hope, as volumes were at 1.08 TEU, a 1.7 percent boost over December 2008.
Over the next six months, ports should continue to see year-over-year increases, with January forecast at 1.15 million TEU, up 9 percent from January 2009. February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, should see 1.05 million TEU, up 25 percent from the previous year. March is forecast at 1.16 million TEU, a 21 percent boost, April at 1.19 million TEU, up 20 percent, and May at 1.2 million TEU, up 15 percent.
While final data won't be available until next month, the report estimates that 2009 ended with a total volume of 12.7 million TEU, a 17 percent drop from 2008's 15.2 million TEU. This would be the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003.
"The U.S. economy is experiencing positive growth, with imports on the rise as a result of re-stocking and a rising consumer demand," said Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates founder. "Consumer sentiment remains cautious, however."
For more information, visit www.nrf.com/PortTracker.