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Container Imports Expected to Slowly Climb from February Low

Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

Container Imports Expected to Slowly Climb from February Low

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2420
March 8, 2023

After experiencing one of the lowest levels of import cargo volume since the pandemic began, major container ports in the United States are expected to see a slow climb in import cargo volume, according to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

While the final numbers for February have yet to be reported, Global Port Tracker projected an “unusually large” drop to 1.56 million TEUs, down 26.2% compared to the previous year and 13.6% below January levels. This would make February the slowest month since May 2020, when many factories in Asia and U.S. stores were closed due to the pandemic. However, it is important to note that February is typically the slowest month of the year due to Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia and retailers’ lull between the holiday season and spring shopping.

“Retailers are maintaining reduced inventories in anticipation of rebuilding with new seasonal stock once they have a clearer take on expected levels of consumer spending,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates which produces the Global Port Tracker for the NRF. “While import volumes remain low, the tight labor market and strong wages are helping consumers absorb the impact of inflation and continue to spend.”

Beginning this month, imports are expected to slowly climb until mid-summer, but will remain significantly below last year’s elevated levels. March is forecasted to reach 1.74 million TEU, down 25.9% compared to the previous year, and April is expected to reach 1.87 million TEU, down 17.2%. May is projected to reach 1.92 million TEU, a 19.7% decrease from the previous year. June is forecasted to reach 2 million TEU, the first time imports are expected to reach the 2 million TEU mark since October, but still down 11.5% from last June. July is expected to reach 2.13 million TEU, down 2.5% year over year.

“There are many uncertainties about the economy, but we expect imports to show modest gains over the next several months,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Growth is a positive sign, but levels are still far below normal and retailers will remain cautious as they work to keep inventories in line with consumer demand.”

The first half of 2023 is forecasted to reach 10.9 million TEU, down 19.5% compared to the first half of 2022. Import cargo volume for 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, a 1.2% decrease from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

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