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Retail container traffic drops, but slated to gain as holidays near

WASHINGTON — A report released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates showed that import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports dropped below last year, but are expected to see year-over-year gains again this fall.

According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report, volumes will stay below last year through the summer, but will edge up as retailers begin to stock up for the holiday season.

“Cargo numbers have been down this summer but that’s a reflection of last year’s unusual shipping patterns more than the economy,” NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “The economy continues to face challenges, but job growth has been steady and retailers have been adding jobs themselves as sales improve. Cargo figures for this fall clearly show that retailers are expecting a healthy holiday season.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in June, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was down 2.6% from May and 5% from June 2010. One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.

June’s volume broke an 18-month streak of year-over-year improvement dating to December 2009, and declines continued in July, which was estimated at 1.3 million TEU, down 5.7% from July 2010.

Year-over-year increases are expected to resume in September, which is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, up 10.4% from last year. October is forecast at 1.46 million TEU, up 8% from last year; November at 1.31 million TEU, up 6.2%; and December at 1.18 million TEU, up 3%.