Retail ports are operating smoothly this spring

The nation’s major retail container ports are operating smoothly this month as volume levels build back up after the winter slow season, according to the April Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Global Insight.

“Heading into the buildup toward the peak season, all ports are operating without congestion,” says Paul Bingham, an economist with Global Insight. “The outlook is for continued good performance despite challenges from continued growth in trade. We still have concerns with the condition of the rail system and challenges for the trucking industry later this year, but we expect the industry should do even better than last year, with little terminal or network congestion.”

There was concern that the Dubai Ports World issue might lead Congress to pass legislation that would impact terminal operations, admits Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel with the NRF, but the issue appears to have been resolved and is not expected to affect port congestion at this point. “Port Tracker will continue to monitor developments that affect the cargo supply chain whether they are taking place on the docks or in Washington,” Autor says.

All ports covered by Port Tracker – Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle on the West Coast, and New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast – are currently rated “low” for congestion, the same as March.

Nationwide, ports surveyed handled 1.09 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) of container traffic during February, the most recent month for which numbers are available. The figure – the lowest volume of the slow, post-holiday winter season – was down 11.7% from January and 1.6% from February 2005. Volume is beginning to climb again and should hit 1.45 million TEU in August, up 9.5% from August 2005. One TEU is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

Port Tracker, which is produced by the economic research, forecasting and analysis firm 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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