U.S. containership volume slows to lowest rate since 2004

The following is the text of a press release issued by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight:


(WASHINGTON) — Year-over-year cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports fell for the 17th straight month in December, completing the slowest year since 2004 as the U.S. economic downturn continued, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Volume for the year was estimated at 15.3 million Twenty-Foot-Equivalent Units, compared with 16.5 million TEU in 2007. That would be a decline of 7.1 percent and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEU moved through the ports. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

“2008 was a slow year for the ports for the simple reason that it was a slow year for retail sales,†NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “We don’t expect a significant increase in traffic at the ports until retail sales return to normal levels, and even then retailers will be careful not to over-stock.â€

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.23 million TEU in November, the last month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 10.3 percent from the 2008 peak of 1.37 million TEU set in October and down 11.8 percent from November 2007. December was estimated at 1.2 million TEU, down 6.4 percent from December 2007. The last month to see a year-over-year increase was July 2007, when the 1.44 million TEU moved through the ports was up 3.4 percent from July 2006.

January is forecast at 1.16 million TEU, down 6.3 percent from January 2008, and February is forecast at 1.1 million TEU, down 11.1 percent from 2008. March is expected to be up 1.1 percent from a year earlier at 1.17 million TEU, but April is expected to decline 2.6 percent from 2008 at 1.23 million TEU. May is forecast at 1.25 million TEU, down 4 percent from last year.

“Between the economy and the customary winter impact of the slow season, port traffic is very weak,†IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. “Port traffic is projected to continue to be very slow due to the underlying weakness in demand.â€

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.

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. The report is free to NRF retail members. Subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971. Non-NRF members can contact IHS Global Insight Director of Business Development Diana Wyman at (202) 481-9265.

The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association, with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores, chain restaurants, drug stores and grocery stores as well as the industry’s key trading partners of retail goods and services. NRF represents an industry with more than 1.6 million U.S. retail companies, more than 25 million employees – about one in five American workers – and 2007 sales of $4.5 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents over 100 state, national and international retail associations. www.nrf.com

IHS Global Insight (www.globalinsight.com ) provides the most comprehensive economic and financial information available on countries, regions and industries, using a unique combination of expertise, models, data and software within a common analytical framework to support planning and decision-making. Through the world’s first same-day analysis and risk assessment service, IHS Global Insight provides immediate insightful analysis of market conditions and key events around the world, covering economic, political, and operational factors. IHS (NYSE: IHS, www.ihs.com ) is a leading global source of critical information and insight that enables innovative and successful decision-making for customers ranging from governments and multinational companies to smaller companies and technical professionals. IHS employs approximately 3,800 people in 20 countries.

By Professional Mariner Staff