Port Tracker: Container Traffic Drops Below Last Year

Traffic at the major retail container ports dropped below last year’s levels late this summer, and the peak monthly volume for 2007 is expected to fall slightly below last year’s peak, according to National Retail Federation and Global Insight’s Port Tracker.

What does that mean? Fewer imports, which means fewer containers coming through the ports. “The good news is that lower volume means the ports are free of congestion and that the goods coming in should move smoothly all the way from ship to shore to store, says Paul Bingham, Global Insight economist.

Port Tracker 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.

Ports surveyed were expected to handle 1.52 million 20-ft equivalent units (TEU) of container traffic in August, a figure that would have broken the record high of 1.51 million TEU set in October 2006, which was also the peak monthly figure for 2006. But the actual volume, however, came in at 1.46 million TEU, up 1.5% from July but down 1.4% from August 2006. One TEU is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

September, which was expected to tie September 2006 at 1.48 million TEU, is now estimated at 1.46 million, down 2% from a year ago.

October is traditionally the peak month of the year as retailers rush to stock shelves for the important holiday season. This October was previously forecast at 1.54 million TEU, but is now forecast at about 3,300 TEU short of last year’s 1.51 million TEU.

November is now forecast at 1.41 million TEU, the same as November 2006 but revised down from the 1.44 million previously forecast. December is now estimated at 1.39 million TEU rather than 1.41 million TEU but still up 6.4% from last year. January 2008 is forecast at 1.37 million TEU, almost the same as the 1.38 million TEU previously forecast and up 5.9% from last year. February 2008, which had not been previously forecast, is expected to be 1.29 million TEU, down 1.3% from February 2007.

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