Retail Container Traffic Marks Lowest Level in Four Years

Washington, D.C. Year-over-year cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports fell for the 17th straight month in December, completing the slowest year since 2004 as the U.S. economic downturn continued, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released on Thursday by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Volume for the year was estimated at 15.3 million 20-ft.-equivalent units, compared with 16.5 million TEU in 2007. That would be a decline of 7.1% and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEU moved through the ports.

One TEU is one 20-ft. container or its equivalent.

“Two thousand eight was a slow year for the ports for the simple reason that it was a slow year for retail sales,” said Jonathan Gold, VP, supply chain and customs policy, NRF. “We don’t expect a significant increase in traffic at the ports until retail sales return to normal levels, and even then retailers will be careful not to over-stock.”

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.23 million TEU in November, the last month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 10.3% from the 2008 peak of 1.37 million TEU set in October and down 11.8% from Nov. 2007.