cargo volume at the nations major retail container ports improved in March over
February¹s seven-year low, but was still at its lowest level in five years and
remained below the 1 million mark, according to the monthly Port Tracker report
released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.
“Cargo that came across the docks in March is in the stores now, so these
numbers show us that retailers expect slow sales this spring and summer, and
have been cautious in the amount of merchandise that they¹ve ordered,” NRF
Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.
“Month-to-month numbers are rising but we¹re still expecting significantly
lower quantities of merchandise being imported than we saw last year.”
ports surveyed handled 984,633 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, the most
recent month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 16.8 percent
from February¹s 842,882 TEU, which was the lowest level since March 2002, but
still down 15 percent from March 2008. The March 2009 number is the next-lowest
since the 901,497 seen in February 2004, and marks the 21st month in a row to
see a year-over-year decline. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its
Volume for April was estimated at 1.04 million TEU, down 18 percent from a year
earlier, and May is forecast at 1.06 million TEU, down 19 percent from last
year. June is forecast at 1.09 million TEU, down 16 percent; July at 1.12
million TEU, down 15 percent; August at 1.15 million TEU, down 15.8 percent;
and September at 1.13 million TEU, down 17 percent.
The first half of 2009 is now forecast at 6.1 million TEU, down 19 percent from
the 7.5 million TEU seen in the first half of 2008. Total volume for 2008 was
15.2 million TEU, down 7.9 percent from 2007¹s 16.5 million TEU and the lowest
level since 2004¹s 14 million TEU.
“The monthly numbers are on their way back up but that¹s really just the shipping
cycle we see every year whether we¹re in a recession or not,” HIS Global
Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. ³The real rebound is still in the future.
Import container traffic is projected to continue to be weak for the next
several months due to the underlying reduction in demand for goods.”
ports covered by Port Tracker Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and
Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and
Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast – are rated ³low² for congestion, the same as
Port Tracker, which is produced by the economic research, forecasting and analysis
firm IHS Global Insight for NRF, looks at inbound container volume, the
availability of trucks and railroad cars to move cargo out of the ports, labor
conditions and other factors that affect cargo movement and congestion. The
report is free to NRF retail members.