Imports into US retailers will be mainly flat this month before embarking on a spring surge, according to figures from the monthly Global Port Tracker report drawn up by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The report also showed that November imports were up 1.2% year-on-year to 1.25m Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU), while for December the estimated figure was 1.21m TEU, up 5.9%.

The NRF said imports in January were likely to be about 1.21m TEU, up 0.1% on last year, while February – traditionally the slowest month of the year – was predicted to be down 3.3% to 1.06m TEU.

But March is likely to show a strong surge upwards in imports, rising 10.5% to 1.2m TEU, a trend continued in April, forecast to show a 3.8% increase to 1.26m TEU.

May is predicted to be up 0.9% at 1.3m TEU.

Meanwhile, the estimated total imports for the whole of 2011 was 14.86m TEU, up 0.7%.

“We’re headed into the slow season for cargo shipments, but forecasts indicate that retailers will be stocking up this spring in anticipation of a moderate recovery as the year progresses,” said NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.

“Cargo volume doesn’t translate directly into sales volume, but when retailers import more it’s because they expect to sell more.”