Retail import volume hits lowest level in seven years

Washington, D.C. Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports hit its lowest level in seven years in February as the number of containers dropped below the 1 million mark for the first time in half a decade, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.

Numbers began climbing again in March and April, but the 1 million mark won’t be seen again before May, and imports will continue to see significant declines, compared with last year, at least through the summer.

U.S. ports surveyed handled only 847,832 twenty-ft. equivalent units in February, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 20.6% from January’s 1.07 million TEU and 31.3% from February 2008’s 1.23 million TEU. One TEU is one 20-ft. container or its equivalent.

The number for February, traditionally the slowest month of the year, was the lowest since 818,342 TEU in March 2002. It was also the first time the total has fallen below the 1 million mark since February 2004, when ports in the survey handled 901,497 TEU, and marked the 20th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline.

Volume for March was estimated at 930,142 TEU, down 19.7% from a year earlier, and April is forecast at 987,371 TEU, down 22%. The numbers are expected to rise above the 1 million mark again in May, but will nonetheless remain well below last year’s levels.

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