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Bottom falls out of cargo volume  

Washington – Cargo volume at the national major retail container ports is expected to drop more rapidly during the first six months of this year than it did in 2008, when volume tumbled 7.9%.

The National Retail Federation and HIS Global Insight today forecast volume for the first six months of 2009 of 6.6 million TEU, down 11.8% from the 7.5 million TEU seen during the same period in 2008. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.

Port Tracker forecasts only six months into the future, so an estimate of volume for the entire year won’t be available until this summer.

Total 2008 volume was 15.2 million TEU -- the lowest total since 2004, when ports handled 14 million TEU.

“2008 was one of the most challenging years retailers have seen, and all indications are that 2009 won’t be any better,” said NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Unfortunately, cargo volume at the ports reflects retailers’ anticipated sales, and NRF expects that sales will get worse before they get better. Retailers are only going to import what they can sell.”

Reflecting the grim holiday period, the study found U.S. ports processed 1.06 million TEU in December, down 13.9% from November and 17.2% from December 2007. December was the 18th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline in cargo moving through the ports. 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% from July 2006.

“The combined influence of the recession and the usual winter slowdown will result in extremely weak February port traffic,” IHS Global Insight economist Paul Bingham said. “Import container traffic is projected to be weak through June because of the underlying reduced demand during the global recession.”

All U.S. ports covered by Port Tracker have been rated “low” for congestion, the same as last month. Those ports are 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 –

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