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Seaport traffic will grow slightly through the end of the year

October 19, 2011 | 10:10 am

Katie Falkenberg  For The Times
Global Port Tracker, the monthly study of retail goods imported to the U.S. through the nation's largest seaports, has greatly reduced its expectations for the remainder of 2011. The numbers suggest the economic recovery is weaker than  previously believed.

One month ago, the report's authors, Hackett Associates, had been expecting a nearly 12% increase in imported goods in September. The jump in September was also to have been followed by a slow tapering off of holidays sales traffic, but the initial surge never materialized.

Now, Global Port Tracker says that cargo imports through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle Tacoma, New York-New Jersey, Virginia, Savannah, Charleston and Houston rose by just 2.7% in September when compared to the same month a year ago.

October is now expected to show a 2.6% increase in import traffic compared to a year earlier, but the National Retail Federation was putting the numbers in the best possible light.

"Retailers are poised to succeed in maintaining the careful balance between inventory and sales that keeps customers happy while keeping retailers profitable,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.

The National Retail Federation is also forecasting 2.8% growth in holiday sales this November and December, for a total of $465.6 billion, compared to the same two months at the end of last year.

Although the numbers aren't a strong as the National Retail Federation would have liked, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said that it could have been much worse.

“General economic indicators are giving us a mixed set of signals,” Hackett said. “Yet at the same time there are indications that things are not quite that bad. We are of the opinion that the probability for economic growth is higher than the probability of recession.”

Also: Cargo surge takes a holiday

Cleaner engines for short line railroad

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--Ronald D. White

Photo: A Pacific Harbor Line locomotive on the right hauls cargo containers of imported goods bound for the nation's store shelves. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times