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Ports of L.A., Long Beach expected to see imports surge

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will receive a stronger surge in imports than previously expected in the first half of 2010, rising as much as 28% over previous-year levels as the economic recovery continues to gather strength, according to a report released Monday by the National Retail Federation.

Overall, imports into the nation’s major container ports are forecast to rise 25% during the first six months of the year compared with the year-earlier period.

The projection shows that at least some economists are expecting steady progress at a time when others are fretting over the possibility of a double-dip recession.

Previous forecasts for the local ports and for the nation’s busiest harbors for container cargo had been for lukewarm improvement at best for the first half of the year.

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But Hackett Associates, which tracks import data every month for some of the nation’s biggest retailers, said that it was noticing positive signs from a number of indicators. One of those was the fact that the record number of ships that were laid up or idled for lack of work last year had begun to drop substantially.

“This forecast assumes that we are not in a double-dip recession and that a recovery is underway,” said Ben Hackett, founder of the consulting firm. “The forecast for 2010 points towards growth.”

The National Retail Federation, which had previously been quite cautious about the pace of the economic recovery, let go of those inhibitions Monday.

“This is a dramatic turnaround over what we’ve seen during the past two years,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the retail federation.

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Gold cautioned that increases in import volumes didn’t mean that retailers would record the same improvement in sales.

“But retailers are clearly expecting to move more merchandise this year,” he said.

Hackett’s monthly report, called Port Tracker, covers imports at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach -- No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively -- as well as Oakland; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; New York/New Jersey; Virginia; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Houston.

Those ports handled a combined 1.1 million containers in December, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was unchanged from November but represented a 2.6% increase over December 2008.

Hackett said those numbers broke a 28-month streak in which import totals were lower than in the same month the year before.

In 2009, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handled 6.75 million and 5.1 million cargo containers, respectively, their lowest totals in several years.

ron.white@latimes.com


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