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Retail Container Traffic Falls for 16th Straight Month

HIS Global Insight and National Retail Federation say 2008 on track to be the slowest year since 2004 as the U.S. economic downturn continues.

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2008 – Year-over-year cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports fell for the 16th straight month in November, leaving 2008 on track to be the slowest year since 2004 as the U.S. economic downturn continues, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Volume is projected to total 15.3 million Twenty-Foot-Equivalent Units for the year, compared with 16.5 million TEU in 2007. That would be a decline of 7.1 percent and the lowest total since 2004, when 14 million TEU moved through the ports. The projection for the year is the same as last month after growing from a 6 percent drop forecast in September and 6.5 percent drop forecast in October. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

“As retailers face the most challenging holiday season in years, they are being careful with their inventory levels, and that means lower volume at the ports,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Cargo volume isn’t a direct correlation with dollar volume of sales, but it’s a good indication of what retailers are thinking.”

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.36 million TEU in October, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. October is the traditional peak of the shipping season as retailers stock up on holiday merchandise, and the number was up 2.4 percent from September but down 5.4 percent from October 2007. The number is also down from the 2007 peak of 1.48 million TEU set last September. November was estimated at 1.26 million TEU, down 8.5 percent from November 2007. The last month to see a year-over-year increase was July 2007, when the 1.44 million TEU moved through the ports was up 3.4 percent from July 2006.

December is forecast at 1.22 million TEU, down 5 percent from December 2007. January 2009 is forecast at 1.17 million TEU, down 4.9 percent from a year earlier, and February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, is forecast at 1.11 million TEU, down 9 percent. A year-over-year increase of 2.5 percent is forecast in March at 1.19 million, but April is forecast at 1.25 million TEU, down 1.3 percent.

Meanwhile, Port Tracker’s congestion rating for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation’s two largest retail container ports – was restored to low. The two ports had been rated at medium the past three months because of the new Clean Truck Program there.

“Startup of the Clean Truck Program regulations has not disrupted cargo, and collection of program and infrastructure fees has been delayed until next year,” IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. “The beginning of the slow season in an already weak traffic environment reduces pressure for port truck drivers, so capacity should remain adequate.”

The remainder of the U.S. ports covered by Port Tracker – 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 companies, more than 25 million employees – about one in five American workers – and 2007 sales of $4.5 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents over 100 state, national and international 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.
Contacts:

NRF: J. Craig Shearman (202) 626-8134 shearmanc@nrf.com
IHS Global Insight: Andrei Roudoi (202) 481-9214 andrei.roudoi@globalinsight.com