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.
"The monthly numbers are on their way back up, but that's really just the shipping cycle we see every year, whether we're in a recession or not," IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. "The real rebound is still in the future. Import container traffic is projected to continue to be weak for the next several months due to the underlying reduction in demand for goods."
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.
Port Tracker, which is produced by the economic research, forecasting and analysis firm IHS Global Insight for NRF, 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. The report is free to NRF retail members. Subscription information is available at www.nrf.com/PortTracker or by calling (202) 783-7971. Non-NRF members can contact IHS Global Insight Director of Business Development Diana Wyman at (202) 481-9265.
The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores, chain restaurants, drug stores and grocery stores as well as the industry's key trading partners of retail goods and services. NRF represents an industry with more than 1.6 million U.S. retail establishments, more than 24 million employees - about one in five American workers - and 2008 sales of $4.6 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents more than 100 state, national and internatinal retail associations. www.nrf.com.
IHS Global Insight (www.globalinsight.com) provides the most comprehensive economic and financial information available on countries, regions and industries, using a unique combination of expertise, models, data and software within a common analytical framework to support planning and decision-making. Through the world's first same-day analysis and risk assessment service, IHS Global Insight provides immediate insightful analysis of market conditions and key events around the world, covering economic, political, and operational factors. IHS (NYSE: IHS, www.ihs.com) is a leading global source of critical information and insight that enables innovative and successful decision-making for customers ranging from governments and multinational companies to smaller companies and technical professionals. IHS employs approximately 3,800 people in 20 countries.