Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports will be flat in May compared with the same month last year, but is expected to see solid year-over-year increases through this summer and the back-to-school season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker
report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

"Consumers are spending despite gas prices and other economic concerns, so retailers are stocking up to meet the demand," says NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. "These numbers show imports growing through the back-to-school season and even into beginning of the shipping cycle for the holiday season. That's a sign that retailers are expecting a good year."

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.18 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in March, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 14.1% from February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, and 8.5% from March 2011. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

April was estimated at 1.24 million TEU, up 2% from a year ago, and May is forecast at 1.28 million TEU, the same as last year. June is forecast at 1.3 million TEU, up 4%; July at 1.35 million TEU, up 1.8%; August at 1.42 million TEU, up 7.2%, and September at 1.45 million TEU, up 8.7%.

The first half of 2012 should total 7.3 million TEU, up 1.9% from the same period last year. The total for 2011 was 14.8 million TEU, up 0.4% from 2010's 14.75 million TEU. NRF projects 2012 retail sales will grow 3.4% to $2.53 trillion.

"The economy is on the mend and all the leading economic indicators continue to point the way toward positive growth," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett says. "2011 was a year of uncertainty that resulted in virtually no growth in import volume but we are witnessing a resurgence of confidence and demand."

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, 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.