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Rail News: Intermodal

Import container volume at major ports to end 2013 on good note, Global Port Tracker predicts

Import volume at the nation's major container ports in December is expected to grow 1.8 percent, helping volume end 2013 with a 2.3 percent year-over-year increase to 16.2 million units, according to the latest monthly "Global Port Tracker" report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

NRF predicts that this year's holiday sales will climb 3.9 percent over last year to $602.1 billion. August, September and October are the months when most of the holiday season's merchandise is brought into the United States. The 4.35 million containers handled during those months represented a 4.3 percent increase over last year and accounted for 26.8 percent of all retail imports for the entire year, the report states.

"Imports have seen good growth over last year and retailers are well-stocked as the holiday season continues," said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold in a press release.

However, consumer spending remains cautious and doesn't approach the expansion of the gross domestic product due to increasing inventory levels, the report states. Despite back-to-school sales, "Black Friday," "Cyber Monday" and regular sales, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains high, although November and December figures might show a catch-up that would help reduce inventories, according to Global Port Tracker.

U.S. ports followed by the report handled 1.43 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in October, down 0.4 percent from September's volume as the peak shipping cycle wound down, but up 6.4 percent from October 2012's mark. The ports are in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, Calif,; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; Houston; New York City; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Fla.

The report estimates November volume at 1.33 million TEUs and December volume at 1.31 million TEUs, which would represent a 3.6 percent and 1.8 percent gain, respectively, on a year-over-year basis. Global Port Tracker also predicts the following port volumes and year-over-year comparisons for 2014's first four months: January, 1.35 million TEUs (up 3.3 percent); February, 1.18 million TEUs (down 7.8 percent); March, 1.32 million TEUs (up 15.9 percent); and April, 1.38 million TEUs (up 6.6 percent).

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