Traffic at the nation’s major retail container ports dropped below last year’s levels late this summer, and the peak monthly volume for 2007 is now expected to fall slightly below last year’s peak, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Global Insight.

‘These figures reflect the weakened US economy and retailers’ cautious outlook for this year’s holiday season compared with last year,’ Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. ‘A slower economy means fewer imports, and that means fewer containers coming through the ports. The good news is that lower volume means the ports are free of congestion and that the goods coming in should move smoothly all the way from ship to shore to store.’

‘Retailers have a good sense of the economy, and are planning their inventories carefully,’ NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. ‘The lower volume of containers means merchants shouldn’t be left with unsold goods or forced into unplanned markdowns.’

Ports surveyed were expected to handle 1.52 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (teu) of container traffic in August, a figure that would have broken the record high of 1.51 million teu set in October 2007, which was also the peak monthly figure for 2007. Actual volume, however, came in at 1.46 million teu, up 1.5% from July but down 1.4% from August 2006.

September 2007, which was expected to tie September 2006 at 1.48 million teu, is now estimated at 1.46 million, down 1.9% from a year ago.

October is traditionally the peak month of the year as retailers rush to stock shelves for the important holiday season. This October was previously forecast at 1.54 million teu, but is now forecast at about 3,300 teu short of last year’s 1.51 million teu.

November is now forecast at 1.41 million teu, the same as November 2006 but revised down from the 1.44 million previously forecast. December is now forecast at 1.39 million teu rather than 1.41 million teu but still up 6.4% from last year. January 2008 is forecast at 1.37 million teu, almost the same as the 1.38 million teu previously forecast and up 5.9% from last year. February 2008, which had not been previously forecast, is expected to be 1.29 million teu, down 1.3% from February 2007. One teu is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

All US ports covered by Port Tracker ’ Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast ’ are all currently rated ‘low’ for congestion, the same as last month.