Retail Container Volume

IMPORT CARGO volume could be on the upswing in early 2010, which bodes well for retailing. After more than two and a half years of year over year declines, cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to see three straight months of gains, according to the monthly Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and IHS Global Insight. “We’ve been seeing hints of a turnaround in our past few reports, but this is starting to look like a clear trend,” says NRF VP for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, Jonathan Gold. “If retailers are starting to import more merchandise, it’s because they expect to sell more, and that’s a good sign for our industry and the overall economy.”

The long decline in container volume is expected to be reversed as of this month, when cargo is expected to total 972,391 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit). The figure is below the one million mark, because February is the slowest month of the year, but would be a 16 percent increase over February 2009. March 2010 is forecast at 1.02 million TEU, a six percent increase over March 2009, and April 2010 is forecast at 1.08 million, a nine percent increase over April 2010. Port Tracker forecasts only six months in advance, so later numbers aren’t yet known.

“The second half of 2009 saw an improvement, with ‘less bad’ year over year numbers, compared with the first half,” IHS Global Insight Economist, Paul Bingham, says. “While improving, import container traffic is projected to be weak through March, due to the traditional slow season, combined with the weak pace of economic recovery.” 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.