A drop in cargo at US ports has stunned analysts, who call the 1.4% fall more evidence of a stalled economy. A few factors are keeping foreign cargo at bay—the low dollar, wary buyers, and a cool housing market among them—yet observers still expressed shock. "When I first saw these numbers, I asked if they had left a column out of the spreadsheet," said one. "I thought it was a typo."
Exports will rise on the low dollar, analysts say, but falling imports stats guarantee a slow holiday season. Cargo at key ports rose only 1% in 2008, after jumping about 10% a year from 1997 to 2006, and building materials fell 20%, furniture 17%, and clothing 10% in the 2nd quarter. “It would have to be a pretty terrific October to change the overall pattern here,” said one observer.