“Monthly numbers are rising as we enter the back-to-school season and will continue to do so as we build up to the holiday season, which is the cycle we see every year whether the economy is good or not,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The volumes are still far below what we saw last year and it’s going to stay that way until the economy begins to recover.”
U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.04 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in May, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That was up 5 percent from April and ended a three-month streak of numbers below 1 million but was down 20 percent from April 2008. After February (839,492 TEU), March (970,949 TEU) and April (990,632 TEU), the figure was the fourth-lowest since the 901,497 seen in February 2004, and marked the 23rd month in a row to see a year-over-year decline. One TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
The first half of 2009 is now forecast at 6 million TEU, down 20 percent from the 7.5 million TEU seen in the first half of 2008. Total volume for 2008 was 15.2 million TEU, down 7.9 percent from 2007’s 16.5 million TEU and the lowest level since 2004’s 14 million TEU.
“With the volumes low, the ports are clear of congestion and there’s plenty of capacity on the rails and highways,” IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. “We’ve gotten to the point where the reduced demand for port labor has prompted some dockworkers to leave the workforce, and many port truckers are struggling.”
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 2008 sales of $4.6 trillion.