Retail Container Traffic Growing But Still Below Last Year

WASHINGTON, (May 7, 2008): Traffic at the nation's major retail container ports will grow steadily this summer but will nonetheless remain at or below last year's levels throughout the period because of the nation's economic slowdown, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Global Insight.

"Import container traffic is forecast to continue to be quite weak through September due to the underlying weakness in consumer demand in the U.S. economy," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. "Retailers are watching consumers' shopping patterns very carefully this year, and the volume of imports reflects what merchants expect they can sell in their stores. These numbers show a cautious approach to inventory management for this fall."

"Record high fuel prices are causing increasing pain for port truckers, but with traffic demand soft, port operations are expected to continue to remain steady," Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. "The covered ports are operating without congestion from harbor to gate with adequate capacity even as volumes are increasing."

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.16 million Twenty-Foot-Equivalent Units (TEU) of container traffic in March, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That's down 4.8 percent from February – traditionally the slowest month of the year – and represented the lowest monthly volume since the 1.11 million TEU imported in February 2006. The number was down 8.5 percent from March 2007.

April was estimated at 1.28 million TEU, down 3.2 percent from a year ago, and May is forecast at 1.31 million TEU, down 4.8 percent. June is forecast at 1.35 million TEU, down 7 percent, and July at 1.41 million TEU, down 2 percent. August is forecast at 1.46 million TEU, flat with last year's August numbers. September is forecast at 1.48 million TEU, a 3 percent increase over last year. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

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 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 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 2006 sales of $4.7 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents more than 100 state, national and international retail associations. www.nrf.com

Global Insight Inc. is a privately held company that brought together the two most respected economic information companies in the world, DRI and WEFA. Global Insight 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, Global Insight provides immediate insightful analysis of market conditions and key events around the world, covering economic, political, and operational factors. The company has over 3,800 clients in industry, finance, and government with revenues in excess of $105 million, more than 690 employees and 25 offices in 14 countries covering North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. www.globalinsight.com

NRF: J. Craig Shearman / (202)626-8134

Global Insight: Paul Bingham (202)481-9216


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