Retail container traffic slowly climbing; still below 2007

By: | at 08:00 PM | Liner Shipping  

West Coast union contract expires but no disruption seen

Traffic at the nation’s major retail cargo ports is slowly climbing despite the continuing economic slowdown, but is expected to remain below last year’s levels through most of 2008, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Global Insight. Meanwhile, West Coast dockworkers’ union contract expired July 1, but negotiations are continuing and no disruption to cargo movement is expected.

‘Month to month numbers are climbing as we build toward the peak of the shipping season, but remain below last year because of reduced consumer demand,’ NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. ‘The gap is starting to narrow, however, and we expect October to show an increase over last year. That’s an important sign because October is when the largest share of merchandise sold during the holiday season usually comes through the ports. November is expected to decline again, but the second half of the year is looking much better than the first half, and we hope to see the trend continue in that direction.’

US ports surveyed handled 1.31 million Twenty-Foot-Equivalent Units (teu) of container traffic in May, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That’s up 3.4% from April but down five percent from May 2007. One teu is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

June was estimated at 1.34 million teu, down 7.8% from a year ago, and July is forecast at 1.4 million teu, down 3.1%. August is forecast at 1.45 million teu, down 0.8%; September at 1.42 million teu, down 3.6%; and October at 1.47 million teu, up 1.7%. The October figure would represent the first year-to-year rise since July 2007, when 1.44 million teu were handled compared with 1.4 million in July 2006. November 2008 is forecast to drop to 1.35 million teu, down two percent from 2007, but traffic typically declines after peaking in October each year.

Year-to-year numbers are expected to deteriorate less during the second half of this year than they did during the first half. Traffic for January-June 2008 was down 6% from the same period in 2007, but June-November 2008 is expected to be down only 0.6% from June-November 2007.

Meanwhile, all US 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.

The US West Coast longshore labor union contract expired on July 1, but negotiations have continued and workers have remained on the job with no sign of disruptions to cargo movement.

‘There is no indication that either side wants a work stoppage to pressure for an agreement,’ Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. ‘There are no other significant short-term labor issues threatening the ports, and port and related transportation labor is expected to continue to be adequate.’


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