Port Tracker expects high import levels to linger on

2022 03 15

US CONTAINER imports are expected to remain at high, if not record-breaking, levels driven by the combination of strong consumer demand, reports Port Tracker, issued by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The ports surveyed in the report include Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland; Tacoma; Seattle; Houston; New York/New Jersey; Hampton Roads; Charleston, and Savannah; Miami; Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades.

Cargo import numbers do not correlate directly with retail sales or employment because they count only the number of containers brought, not the value of the merchandise that would provide a better estimate of retailers' expectations.

"Consumers are still spending and the supply chain is still working to keep up," said NRF vice president Jonathan Gold.

"Growth rates have slowed down from the off-the-charts numbers we saw last year, but volume is close to the highest we've ever seen. Everyone in the supply chain is trying to reduce congestion, but there is still work to be done. Retailers are also planning for potential additional disruptions this summer from west coast port labour contract negotiations."

For January, the most recent month for which data is available, import volume- at 2.16 million TEU saw a 3.6 per cent gain over December and was up 5.2 per cent annually.

For the following months, Port Tracker issued the following projections: February, at 2.07 million TEU, for a 10.5 per cent annual increase; March at 2.17 million TEU, for a 4.5 per cent annual decrease; April, at 2.24 million TEU, for a 4.2 per cent annual increase; May, at 2.26 million TEU, for a 3.2 per cent annual decrease; June, at 2.23 million TEU, for a four per cent annual increase; and July, at 2.26 million TEU, for a three per cent annual increase.

Looking at the first half of 2022, Port Tracker expects US ports to handle 13.1 million TEU, which would represent a 2.4 per cent annual increase. Import levels in 2021 - at a record 25.8 million TEU - were up 17.4 per cent over the previous records set in 2020, at 22 million TEU.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett wrote in the report that there is a good news-bad news scenario playing out as it relates to import levels.

For the former, it is what he called a general sense of optimism in the economy, with consumers dipping in savings accumulated during the pandemic to spend freely, and, for the former, is the ongoing inflation gains that are expected to continue, driven largely by fuel increases. And he also highlighted the ongoing state of port congestion.

"Congestion continues, with ships queuing for berths at multiple ports on both the east and west coasts," said Mr Hackett. "Efforts to alleviate congestion continue, including the development of off-site capacity for containers and Sunday gate hours.

The problem remains with the clearance of import containers to their inland destinations while export containers are still being held back due to lack of space at the terminals. Until supply chain problems are sorted out with more drivers, trucks, and inland storage space, we do not expect to see a rapid decline in the backlogs being experienced."

Source Shipping Gazette


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