News Details

Retail imports seen higher without congestion at US ports

Imports at the largest retail container ports in the US should remain at near-record levels this month but could see a slight dip from last year’s unusually high numbers as congestion slows the movement of backed-up cargo, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“The cargo is there for larger gains at several ports but congestion issues are impacting fluid operations,” NRF Vice-President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, Jonathan Gold, said. “Ships will eventually get unloaded but the pressure is on for everyone to work together to get the containers out as quickly as possible. Retailers are doing whatever it takes to make sure shelves are well-stocked for the holidays, from bringing in merchandise earlier to chartering their own ships…”

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse with the logistics supply chain, we’ve been proven wrong,” Hackett Associates Founder, Ben Hackett, said. “From power outages and port shutdowns in Asia to backed-up ships and shortages of truck drivers in the United States, there are few positive signs that the movement of consumer goods or the supply of inputs needed for industrial production is getting better.”

Hackett said Covid-19 infections in Asia have slowed the loading of US-bound ships, while shortages of equipment, labour and outbound truck and rail capacity have continued to build congestion at US ports. Close to 75 ships were waiting at anchor to enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently, up from around 25 a month earlier, and backups are spreading to East Coast ports as well.

Surging volumes

US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.27 million TEUs in August 2021, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 3.5 per cent from July and up 7.8 per cent from a year earlier and tied March as the second-busiest month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. May remains the busiest month on record at 2.33 million TEUs. 

Ports have not reported September numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.25 million TEUs, which would be up 6.7 per cent year-over-year.

October is forecast at 2.21 million TEUs. That would be down 0.3 per cent from the same time last year, when imports surged dramatically as the economy reopened after the first wave of Covid-19 and retailers rushed to meet pent-up consumer demand, but still the sixth-busiest month on record as imports remain high. The year-over-year decline would be the first since July 2020.

The congestion and disruption come in the middle of the “peak season” for shipping when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year, but many retailers began bringing in holiday goods this summer to be sure sufficient inventory will be available.

November is forecast at 2.16 million TEUs, which would be up 2.9 per cent year-over-year, and December is forecast at 2.1 million TEUs, down 0.2 per cent. January 2022 is forecast at 2.17 million TEUs, up 5.7 per cent from January 2021, and February 2022 is forecast at 1.9 million TEUs, up 1.4 per cent year-over-year.

The first half of 2021 totalled 12.8 million TEUs, up 35.6 per cent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 26 million TEUs, up 18.1 per cent over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year’s 22 million TEUs. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9 per cent over 2019 despite the pandemic, highlighted a release.


Source: Exim News Service: Washington, Oct. 12