Container traffic peak arrives earlier than usual

Retail Editor 8, August 6, 2010

Washington - Compared to low container traffic a year ago, import cargo volume in the U.S. is forecast to rise 15% this year.


The first half of 2010 was estimated at 6.9 million TEU (20-foot container, or its equivalent), by the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. That was up up 17% from the same period last year.


The 14.5 million TEU total forecast for 2010 would be up from 12.7 million TEU in 2009, which was the lowest since the 12.5 million TEU reported in 2003. The 2010 number remains below the 15.2 million TEU seen in 2008.


"We aren't back to where we were two years ago and consumers aren't convinced that the recession is over quite yet, but 2010 is clearly going to finish better than last year," said NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.


U.S. ports handled 1.32 million TEUs in June, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 4% from May and 30% from June 2009. It was the seventh month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines.


July was estimated at 1.38 million TEU, a 25% increase over last year. August is forecast at 1.32 million TEU, up 14% annually, with September at 1.32 million TEU, up 16%; October at 1.31 million TEU, up 10%; November at 1.19 million TEU, up 9%; and December at 1.12 million TEU, up 2%.


Gold said retailers are pay close attention to demand, "and hoping to see increases in employment and other areas that will boost consumer confidence. Cargo numbers this summer are showing unusually high percentage increases, but that appears to be an indication of shortages in shipping capacity earlier in the year rather than sales expectations."

Significant double-digit increases in June and July largely resulted from backlogs created by the lack of shipping capacity earlier in the year after ship owners took vessels out of service during the recession. "With many retailers appearing to bring merchandise in early to avoid any further bottlenecks, July is likely to be the peak shipping month for 2010 rather than the traditional rush of holiday season merchandise in October," PortTracker concluded.


Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett added: "There are indications that the shipping season may have peaked earlier than normal as the rush to re-stock inventories earlier in the year intersects with a combination of increased shipping capacity, consumer confidence levels not seen since August 2009 and the slowing growth of consumer spending. The traditional peak season may be melting away."


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