US Container Traffic Continues Growth

May 14, 2008
Traffic at major US retail container ports will grow steadily this summer but will remain at or below last year’s levels throughout the period, says the Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Global Insight.

“[US] import container traffic is forecast to continue to be quite weak through September due to the underlying weakness in consumer demand in the US economy,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. “Retailers are watching consumers’ shopping patterns very carefully this year, and the volume of imports reflects what merchants expect they can sell in their stores. These numbers show a cautious approach to inventory management for this fall.”

“Record high fuel prices are causing increasing pain for port truckers, but with traffic demand soft, port operations are expected to continue to remain steady,” added Paul Bingham, Global Insight Economist. He continued, saying that the ports covered by Port Tracker are operating without congestion from harbor to gate with adequate capacity even as volumes are increasing.
US ports surveyed handled 1.16 million twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) of container traffic in March, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That’s down 4.8% from February – traditionally the slowest month of the year – and represented the lowest monthly volume since the 1.11 million TEU imported in February 2006. The March 2008 number was down 8.5% from March 2007.

April was estimated at 1.28 million TEU, down 3.2% from a year ago. May is forecast at 1.31 million TEU, down 4.8%. June is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, down 7%, and July, at 1.41 million TEU, down 2%. August is forecast at 1.46 million TEU, flat with last year’s August numbers. September is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, a 3% increase over last year.

All U.S. 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.

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.