U.S. containerized import volume fell 6 percent in September from the month before as retailers restrain inventories. Even a surge in auto parts shipments was not enough to offset growing retailer pessimism about consumer demand.

According to figures from The Journal of Commerce/PIERS, the September volume of 1,464,193 20-foot-equivalent units coming into the country was up a modest 1% from the same month a year ago, the first year-over-year gain after three straight months of decline. A 25% surge in parts to support the recovering automobile industry offset steep declines in consumer goods compared to September 2010, said Mario O. Moreno, economist for The Journal of Commerce/PIERS.

But imports fell 6% from August to September, and the disappointing numbers for such items as toys, apparel and home goods signaled retailers are restraining their inventory growth on the cusp of the holiday shopping season.

"Retailers' optimism from this time last year has faded, reflecting concerns around the reduction of disposable income nationwide, an uncertain job market and rising import costs from key-sourcing country China," Moreno said.

Toy imports were down 9% year-over-year. Also down were popular gift items such as women's and infant wear, sliding 11%, computers down 14%, and menswear down 8%. Furniture and soft home goods also declined 3% and 11% respectively.

The year-over-year climb to 54,190 TEUs made September 2011's second-highest month of auto parts imports.

Compared to the same period in the previous year, total U.S. containerized imports were up 3.3% in September year to date and down 1.8% in the third quarter, which was in line with Moreno's previous forecasts. He predicts a 1% rise for the fourth quarter, with "auto parts continuing to post gains driven by a still growing, albeit slow, manufacturing sector and solid external demand."

For additional forecasts and full analyses of the JOC/PIERS findings on toys and pre-holiday shipment declines and September's imports report can be found at www.joc.com.