Container Traffic At U.S. Ports Will Be Flat This Summer

Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports is expected to remain at about the same levels as last year through July before starting to resume increases later this summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

“With rising gas prices and challenges in the labor and housing markets, consumer spending has slowed and retailers have adjusted their inventory levels accordingly,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “We are confident long-term consumer demand will grow, and that imports will pick up significantly in the fall.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.22 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April, the latest month for which numbers are available. That was up 12% from March and 7% from April 2010. It was the 17th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

May was estimated at 1.27 million TEUs, only one-third of 1% over May 2010. June is forecast at 1.33 million TEUs, a 1% increase from a year ago; July at 1.39 million TEUs, up one-half of 1% from last year; August at 1.47 million TEUs, up 3%; September at 1.49 million TEUs, up 12%; and October at 1.54 million TEUs, up 19%. August through October are traditionally the busiest months of the year as retailers stock up for the holiday season.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.2 million TEUs, up 5% from the first half of 2010. Global Port Tracker forecasts only six months beyond actual numbers, so a forecast for the full year is not yet available. Imports during 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEUs, a 16% increase over 2009.

“2011 is turning out to be an uncertain year for shipping,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “The good news for the coming few months is that inventories are too low, which will generate shipping demand as the supply chain moves to re-stock, albeit cautiously.”

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long 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.

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