Import cargo volume at major retail container ports in the US is expected to edge up by 0.3% in December as retailers head to the finish line of the holiday shopping season.

The slight rise over December last year is forecast by the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

"The uptick we're expecting for December isn't large at all but it comes after several months where retailers had reduced their imports from last year, so it's a positive sign by comparison," said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

"Retailers are placing a cautious bet that consumer demand is increasing."

US ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.28m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 3.5% from the peak for the year hit in September, and down 5% from October 2010. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

November was estimated at 1.18m TEU, down 4.4% from a year ago, while December is forecast at 1.15m TEU, up 0.3% from last year.

After the holidays, January 2012 is forecast at 1.15m TEU, down 4.8% from January 2011. February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.04m TEU, down 5.7%; March is expected to see 1.17m TEU, an increase of 7%; and April is forecast at 1.22m TEU, the same as last year.

The total for 2011 is forecast at 14.73m TEU, down one-tenth of 1% from last year's 14.75m TEU.

 "We expect to see a mini-resurgence in December," Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. "With consumer spending on the rise, it would seem that the pace of retail sales will continue through to the New Year's sales at least."