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U.S. Cargo Imports Expected To Slow

Containerized import cargo volumes at major US retail container ports were expected to increase in May by 3.3 percent, according to a forecast from Global Port Tracker, a research firm that monitors import and export activity.

The forecast was released by the National Retailer Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

Retailers restocking inventory may account in part for the increase in May imports. But, “Retailers remain cautious, especially when it comes to stocking their inventories,” said Jonathon Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF.

Import growth for the summer months is expected to be weak.

“We’re looking at barely 1 percent year-over-year growth through the early summer, and August and September are expected to be basically flat even though they’re supposed to be the busiest months of the year,” said Gold.

Container imports are not an accurate indicator of retail sales or employment because there is no one-to-the-other correspondence between these factors.

The value of goods imported in containers is not calculated and so dollar forecasts cannot be projected using the available data.

As a means of forecasting retail activity, therefore, the number of container imports may provide only an off-the-cuff estimate of what merchants expect.

Global Port Tracker forecasts a total of 7.8 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) for the first six months of 2013, an increase of two percent over the same period in 2012.

The TEU metric refers to the standard size of an import-export container, 20-feet long by 8-feet wide.  Total TEU for 2012 was 15.8 million, an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.

Although the US economy is now enjoying a slow but ongoing comeback, Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which publishes the Global Port Tracker report, still believes there remains the possibility of a new economic downturn.

“We need to see the economy strengthen in the coming quarters before we begin to see the threat of a further economic downturn dissipating,” he said.  “Trade will remain at low growth levels until we reach this stage.”

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