Retail container traffic falls for 16th straight month
Year-over-year cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports fell for the 16th straight month in November.
2008 is on track to be the slowest year since 2004 as the U.S. economic downturn continues, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.
Volume is projected to total 15.3 million TEUs for the year, 7.1 percent less than the 16.5 million TEUs handled at the same ports in 2007, and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEUs moved through the ports.
“As retailers face the most challenging holiday season in years, they are being careful with their inventory levels, and that means lower volume at the ports,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Cargo volume isn’t a direct correlation with dollar volume of sales, but it’s a good indication of what retailers are thinking.”
U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.36 million TEUs in October, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. October is the traditional peak of the shipping season as retailers stock up on holiday merchandise, and the number was up 2.4 percent from September but down 5.4 percent from October 2007.
Meanwhile, Port Tracker’s congestion rating for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — the nation’s two largest retail container ports — was restored to low. The two ports had been rated at medium the past three months because of the new Clean Truck Program there.
“Startup of the Clean Truck Program regulations has not disrupted cargo, and collection of program and infrastructure fees has been delayed until next year,” IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. “The beginning of the slow season in an already weak traffic environment reduces pressure for port truck drivers, so capacity should remain adequate.”
The remainder of the U.S. ports covered by Port Tracker — 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.