Report: Retail container imports at 7-year low
Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports hit its lowest level in seven years in February, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.
The report said monthly container volumes at ports the report tracks dropped below the 1 million mark for the first time in a half-decade,
Numbers began climbing again in March and April, but the 1 million mark won't be seen again before May, and imports will continue to see significant declines compared with last year at least through the summer.
'These numbers come during the slowest part of the annual shipping cycle, so they're expected to be low, but they nonetheless show the severity of the current recession and its impact on the retail industry,' said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. 'The good news is that we've already seen the bottom for the year, and month-to-month numbers are already starting to climb. We're still going to see double-digit declines compared with last year, but the size of the gap is starting to narrow.'
U.S. ports surveyed handled only 847,832 TEUs in February, the most recent month for which numbers are available. That was down 20.6 percent from January's 1.07 million TEUs and 31.3 percent from February 2008's 1.23 million TEUs.
'The weak port cargo volumes have left port trucking with excess capacity, and cargo is moving without congestion either at the ports or through the inland system,' said Paul Bingham, IHS Global Insight economist. 'Rail operations were affected by flooding in the northern states in March and April but disruptions were not sustained enough to cause significant delays.'
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, the same as last month.