Import cargo volume at the nation's major container ports could see its first year-over-year increases in more than two years beginning in early 2010, according to the monthly "Port Tracker" report released Nov. 23 by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consultancy IHS Global Insight.
"This could be the turnaround we've been waiting to see for a long time," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. "There's not enough data yet to establish a clear trend, but we're hopeful that this is a sign of recovery."
U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.14 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in September, the most recent month for which actual numbers were available, the report said. That was down 3 percent from August and 16 percent from September 2008, marking the 27th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline, the report said.
Volume for October, traditionally the peak month of the year, was estimated at 1.17 million TEUs, down 15 percent from last year. November is forecast at 1.09 million TEUs, down 11 percent from last year; December at 1.06 million TEUs, flat compared with last year; and January 2010 at 1.03 million TEUs, down 3 percent.
The downward trend is forecast to be broken in February, when cargo is expected to total 973,872 TEUs, the report said. The figure is below the 1 million mark because February is the slowest month of the year, but it would represent a 16-percent increase over February 2009. March 2010 is forecast at 1.02 million, a 5-percent increase over March 2009.
The report's authors now expect 2009 to end with a total volume of 12.7 million TEUs, a drop of 16.8 percent from last year's 15.2 million TEUs and the lowest since the 12.47 million TEUs imported in 2003.
"The second half of 2009 has continued to see declines from 2008's levels, but not as large as we saw during the first half of this year," IHS Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. "These 'less bad' numbers are evidence that the industry is seeing early signs of recovery."
"Port Tracker" covers container import activity at nine U.S. ports: Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Va., Charleston. S.C., and Savannah, Ga., on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.