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U.S. Container Traffic Slows

Retailers' lack of optimism about the holiday season is showing at the nation's ports.

NEW YORK — Retailers’ lack of optimism about the holiday season is showing at the nation’s ports.

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The National Retail Federation’s monthly Port Tracker said container traffic at the nation’s major ports has fallen the last several months. The report examines traffic levels at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.; Tacoma and Seattle, Wash; New York; New Jersey; Hampton Roads, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., and Houston.

For October, traditionally the peak of the year, the ports handled 1.46 million 20-foot equivalent units, or TEU, representing a 3.5 percent drop from a record high of 1.51 million TEU in October 2006. A TEU is the standard maritime industry measurement used to count cargo. This year’s traffic levels for October were also down 1.3 percent compared with the 1.48 million TEU handled in the previous month.

“The slow pace of container traffic growth is forecast to continue due to weakness in the U.S. economy,” Paul Bingham, an economist with Global Insight, said in a statement. Global Insight produces Port Tracker for the NRF. “All covered U.S. ports are operating without congestion from the harbors to the gates and are rated low for congestion through spring.

The report estimated that November TEU traffic would fall 3.5 percent to 1.36 million TEU, marking the fourth consecutive month that cargo levels will have dropped below results for the previous year. Official statistics for November are beginning to be released by the ports and support the report’s predictions. On Dec. 14, the port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest facility, released updated traffic results for November that showed the port handled 736,340 TEU during the month, a 1.2 percent decline from the 745,613 last year. At the port of Long Beach, the second largest in the nation, traffic fell 6.6 percent to 611,606 TEU from 654,997 TEU.