Retail Container Traffic Seen Growing More Slowly in 2007

Trade growth headed up, but port congestion said "low" in good news for retail supply chains, National Retail Federation and Global Insight report


Washington, DC — January 10, 2007 — Traffic at the nation's major retail container ports should continue to grow in 2007 as retailers import more merchandise from abroad, but won't grow as fast as it did during 2006, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Global Insight.

Port Tracker, which is produced by the economic research, forecasting and analysis firm 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.

"Overall trade growth is expected to be positive but slower compared with the monthly rates we saw in the first half of 2006," Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. "Nonetheless, each month is still expected to see a new record volume for that month."

Container traffic is expected to grow at rates ranging from 4.6 percent to 7.3 percent once the winter slow season ends this spring (March through May 2007, measured against the same months in 2006). That compares with increases ranging from 7 percent to 17.9 percent during the same months last year.

"Port Tracker is giving us the ability to track and predict volume and growth at the ports with a level of precision we never had in the past," NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. "This data is vitally important for retailers trying to keep their supply chains running smoothly."

Congestion Seen Low

All ports covered by Port Tracker — Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle on the West Coast, and New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast — are currently rated "low" for congestion, the same as last month.

Nationwide, the ports surveyed handled 1.36 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container traffic in November, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. The figure was down 6.6 percent from October but up 7.1 percent from November 2005.

Volume is expected to follow its usual pattern of declining over the winter months, although numbers are expected to continue to show growth above one year ago. December is forecast at 1.32 million TEU (up 10.1 percent from December 2005), January at 1.27 million (up 4.2 percent from January 2006), and February at 1.2 million TEU (up 13.4 percent from February 2006).

Volume is expected to begin to move upward again in March, forecast at 1.3 million TEU (up 4.8 percent from March 2006). April is forecast at 1.38 million TEU (up 4.6 percent from April 2006), and May at 1.41 million TEU (up 7.3 percent from May 2006). One TEU is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

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