US Port Traffic Continues Drop

After ending 2008 down 7.9%, cargo volume at major US retail container ports is expected to drop at an even faster pace during the first half of 2009 as the economic recession continues, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Final data for 2008 showed volume for the year at 15.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units), compared with 16.5 million TEUs in 2007, a decline of 7.9% and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEUs moved through the ports.

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After ending 2008 down 7.9%, cargo volume at major US retail container ports is expected to drop at an even faster pace during the first half of 2009 as the economic recession continues, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Final data for 2008 showed volume for the year at 15.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units), compared with 16.5 million TEUs in 2007, a decline of 7.9% and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEUs moved through the ports.

Volume for the first six months of 2009 is forecast at 6.6 million TEUs, down 11.8% from the 7.5 million TEUs seen during the same period in 2008. Port Tracker forecasts only six months into the future, so an estimate of volume for the entire year won’t be available until this summer.

“2008 was one of the most challenging years retailers have seen, and all indications are that 2009 won’t be any better,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Unfortunately, cargo volume at the ports reflects retailers’ anticipated sales, and NRF expects that sales will get worse before they get better. Retailers are only going to import what they can sell.”

US ports surveyed handled 1.06 million TEUs in December, the last month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 13.9% from November and 17.2% from December 2007, and made December the 18th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline. The last month to see a year-over-year increase was July 2007, when the 1.44 million TEUs moved through the ports represented a 3.4% increase from July 2006.
January was estimated at 1.04 million TEUs, down 15.8% from January 2008, and February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1 million TEUs, down 18.7% from 2008. March is forecast at 1.08 million TEUs, down 7% from a year earlier, April at 1.14 million TEU, down 10.1%; May at 1.16 million TEUs, down 11%, and June at 1.19 million TEUs, down 8.5%.

“The combined influence of the recession and the usual winter slowdown will result in extremely weak February port traffic,” IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. “Import container traffic is projected to be weak through June because of the underlying reduced demand during the global recession.”

All US 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 “low” for congestion, the same as last month.

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.

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