Container traffic remains flat

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is staying at about the same levels this summer as last year, although traffic is expected to pick up this fall, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

U.S. ports handled 1.28 million TEU in May, the latest month for which numbers are available. (One TEU is one 20-ft. cargo container or its equivalent.) That was up 6% from April and 1% from May 2010. It was the 18th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.

“With the economy facing continuing challenges, retailers are managing their inventory levels carefully,” said Jonathan Gold, VP supply chain and customs policy for NRF. “But the increases in import volume expected this fall are a clear sign that retailers are confident consumer demand will be there in the fourth quarter.”   

June was estimated at 1.31 million TEU, about eight-tenths of 1% down from June 2010, if the estimate holds true when final numbers become available. July is forecast at 1.36 million TEU, which would be a 1.3% decrease from a year ago, and August is forecast at 1.43 million TEU, up six-tenths of 1% from last year. Stronger increases are expected to return in September as retailers begin to stock up for the holiday season, with volume forecast at 1.47 million TEU, up 10% from last year. October is forecast at 1.53 million TEU, up 18%, and November at 1.41 million TEU, up 19%.

The U.S. ports covered by Port Tracker are: 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.