One of the things I track at work are the movements of TEUs (twenty-food equivalent units.) These are the containers that you often see if you drive by ports, and sometimes on trucks. It’s based on the volume that a box 20 feet long holds. These boxes can hold anything from cigarettes to sardines to motorcycles and it’s how we track world trade. The reason they’re called equivalent units is that they often don’t have a standard height, meaning that they’re averaged together and standardized. They are usually tracked by customs agents at each port they enter and these customs reports are what we use for some of our forecasts.
Over the past several months, TEU arrival volumes to all major ports have been drastically falling, due to lack of import demand in Western countries. Below are some pictures I’ve found in my daily perusal of trade news of TEUs abandoned, empty, and lonely at ports. Their main use is to always be going somehwere, always new and exotic, so it’s sad and awkward to see them still.