Retail Import Volume Sinks to 5-Year Low
WASHINGTON, D.C. May 7, 2009 -- Import cargo volume at the nation's major retail container ports improved in March over February's seven-year low, but was still at its lowest level in five years and remained below the 1 million mark, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.
"Cargo that came across the docks in March is in the stores now, so these numbers show us that retailers expect slow sales this spring and summer, and have been cautious in the amount of merchandise that they've ordered," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. "Month-to-month numbers are rising but we're still expecting significantly lower quantities of merchandise being imported than we saw last year."
U.S. ports surveyed handled 984,633 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in March, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 16.8 percent from February's 842,882 TEU, which was the lowest level since March 2002, but still down 15 percent from March 2008. The March 2009 number is the next-lowest since the 901,497 seen in February 2004, and marks the 21st month in a row to see a year-over-year decline. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
Volume for April was estimated at 1.04 million TEU, down 18 percent from a year earlier, and May is forecast at 1.06 million TEU, down 19 percent from last year. June is forecast at 1.09 million TEU, down 16 percent; July at 1.12 million TEU, down 15 percent; August at 1.15 million TEU, down 15.8 percent; and September at 1.13 million TEU, down 17 percent.
The first half of 2009 is now forecast at 6.1 million TEU, down 19 percent from the 7.5 million TEU seen in the first half of 2008. Total volume for 2008 was 15.2 million TEU, down 7.9 percent from 2007's 16.5 million TEU and the lowest level since 2004's 14 million TEU.