By  on June 10, 2008

NEW YORK — Container traffic levels at the nation's largest ports have continued to fall, as economic difficulties persist, a trend that experts predict will carry through to October.According to the National Retail Federation's monthly Port Tracker report, the number of 20-foot equivalent units, or TEU, handled in April fell 4.7 percent to 1.3 million compared with the same period a year ago. However, it represented a marked improvement from March levels of 1.2 million, the lowest trade volume reported in two years."That's in line with forecasts that the economy could begin its slow recovery this fall and reflects retailers' sales expectations for the holiday season," said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the NRF.Ports surveyed by Port Tracker include Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland in California; Seattle, New York-New Jersey, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.The NRF predicts container traffic volumes will continue to come in below last year's levels through September. For May, TEU are expected to fall 5.7 percent to 1.3 million and June is forecast at 1.3 million TEU, representing a decline of 8.1 percent from June 2007. July, August and September are expected to report declines of 0.3 percent to 3.1 percent. October should see a reversal of traffic declines, with about 1.5 million TEU expected in October, a 2.7 percent increase that would represent the first increase since July 2007."One piece of good news is that progress has been reported in the West Coast longshore labor union contract negotiations," said Paul Bingham, an economist with Global Insight, which produces Port Tracker for the NRF. "Other than this contract, we don't see any significant labor issues threatening the ports, and expect port and transportation labor to continue to be adequate over the next six months.Congestion levels at all ports are regarded as "low."

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