The ports are poised for significant improvements in retail container traffic, with double-digit increases expected to continue through the summer as the U.S. economy begins to improve
In March, import cargo volume is expected to gain 13 percent over the same month of 2009.
In March, import cargo volume is expected to gain 13 percent over the same month of 2009.
, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. The report said import cargo volume is expected to gain 13 percent in March over the same month of 2009.

"These numbers show that retailers continue to anticipate improvements in the U.S. economy," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. "This is very different from the past two years when merchants were continually cutting their imports in an effort to manage inventory."

In January, the U.S. ports handled 1.08 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, or TEU, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. While January's figures were down 1 percent from December following the holiday season, volumes were up 2 percent from January 2009. It was also the second month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year monthly declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

February should land at 1.08 million TEU, the same as January, but a 29 percent increase over low numbers in February 2009. March is forecast at 1.09 million TEU, while April is forecast at 1.17 million TEU, up 19 percent as retailers begin to stock up for spring and summer. May is expected to be at 1.21 million TEU, up 17 percent, while June should end at 1.26 million TEU, up 25 percent. July is forecast at 1.33 million TEU, up 20 percent.

Another positive sign that the economy's improving is the fact that the first half of 2010 is expected to total 6.9 million TEU, up 17 percent from last year's 5.9 million TEU. Imports for 2009 totaled 12.7 million TEU, down 17 percent from 2008's 15.2 million TEU and the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003.

According to Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, the U.S. economy appears to be in true recovery rather than the mid-point upswing of a double-dip recession.

"We are in a cautious but sustained growth cycle," Hackett said. "Trade will grow and as a result of statistical comparison with the trough in 2009, the growth rates will appear to be healthy."

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