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Container vessel approaching the terminal at the Port of Savannah, Georgia

Container vessel approaching the terminal at the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Photo credit: Ungureanu Catalina Oana / Shutterstock.com

Retailers Raise U.S. Imports Forecast as Growth Continues

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 414
April 10, 2024

Inbound cargo volume at major U.S. container ports is projected to exceed 2 million units in May, the first time since last Fall, as import growth continues despite new supply chain disruptions, according to the National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker report. 

The report, produced by Hackett Associates, reveals that U.S. imports continue to rise, even while facing disruptions at ports, as retailers adapt to limitations at the Panama Canal and the Red Sea. The recent shutdown of the Port of Baltimore has posed a new challenge.

The Port of Baltimore was closed to vessel traffic after the M/V Dali struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, causing the bridge to collapse and blocking the harbor’s only shipping channel. Although Baltimore’s data isn’t included in the national totals due to late reporting, the closure is causing regional impact, redirecting cargo to other East Coast ports.

Resilient U.S. Container Imports Continue to Surge Despite Supply Chain Challenges

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, predicts that the Baltimore accident will likely reroute container imports and exports to New York/New Jersey and Virginia until a shipping channel is cleared, possibly within a few months.

Simultaneously, carriers have had to navigate around the Red Sea and Suez Canal due to vessel attacks earlier this year. They make up for longer voyages by adding more vessels and increasing their speed, which has kept supply chains relatively stable.

“Doing so has resulted in relatively stable supply chains within a short period of time,” Hackett said. “A word of caution, however, is that any further pressures on capacity could seriously impact the market.”

March’s import numbers were projected at 1.8 million TEU, down 7.8% from February due to Lunar New Year’s impact, but up 11% year over year. Forecasts for the following months show an upward trend, with May expected to reach the highest level since last October at 2.04 million TEU, a 5.5% increase. June, July, and August are also expected to see increases over last year.

The NRF has steadily raised its forecast for U.S. imports over the last few months. The first half of 2024 is now projected to total 11.7 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), up from the 11.5 million TEUs projected in March and 11.1 million TEUs from February. This would mark an 11% increase from the same period last year.

Meanwhile, imports during 2023 totalled 22.3 million TEU, a decrease of 12.8% from 2022.

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