Retail Import Volume Hits Lowest Level in 7 Years
WASHINGTON, April 15, 2009 -- Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports hit its lowest level in seven years in February as the number of containers dropped below the one million mark for the first time in half a decade, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight. Numbers began climbing again in March and April, but the one million mark won't be seen again before May, and imports will continue to see significant declines compared with last year at least through the summer.
"These numbers come during the slowest part of the annual shipping cycle, so they're expected to be low, but they nonetheless show the severity of the current recession and its impact on the retail industry," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. "The good news is that we've already seen the bottom for the year, and month-to-month numbers are already starting to climb. We're still going to see double-digit declines compared with last year, but the size of the gap is starting to narrow."
U.S. ports surveyed handled only 847,832 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in February, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 20.6 percent from January's 1.07 million TEU and 31.3 percent from February 2008's 1.23 million TEU. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
The number for February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, was the lowest since 818,342 TEU in March 2002. It was also the first time the total has fallen below the one million mark since February 2004, when ports in the survey handled 901,497 TEU, and marked the 20th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline. The last year-over-year increase was in July 2007, when the 1.44 million TEU handled was up 3.4 percent from July 2006.