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A containership at the Port of Long Beach

Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

U.S. Imports Surge Amid Rising Consumer Spending

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1833
June 11, 2024

Major container ports in the U.S. are expected to see the highest inbound cargo volume in nearly two years this summer, driven by increased consumer spending and retailers stocking up to meet demand, according to a new report from the National Retail Federation.

Despite challenges in the supply chain, such as overseas port congestion and high shipping costs, the report predicts that import levels will remain elevated for the next several months.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, Jonathan Gold, attributed the growth to ongoing consumer spending which has prompted retailers to stock up to meet demand ahead of peak shopping season.

The Global Port Tracker report shows that U.S. ports handled 2.02 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in April, marking a 4.6% increase from March and a 13.2% increase year over year. The report’s projections for May suggest that volume rose to 2.09 million TEUs, an 8.3% increase year over year, marking the highest level since August 2022.

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates which produces the monthly report on behalf of the NRF, says import levels are likely to surpass 2 million TEUs, a milestone only achieved twice since October 2022, for seven months in a row. “Imports of containerized goods at U.S. ports are booming, with particularly strong growth on the West Coast,” Hackett said.

He notes that the change is partially due to changes in annual peak shipping season. In recent years, U.S. ports have witnessed a flattened peak season, stretching out import volumes over several months versus the consolidated surge seen in the past. “Reasons range from retailers restocking following strong sales after the pandemic to trying to get ahead of increased tariffs on goods from China set to take effect in August and ensuring sufficient inventories for the holiday season amid strong consumer demand,” he said.

Forecasts for the later this year indicate further growth in TEU volumes. June is expected to reach 2.11 million TEUs, equating to a 15.2% increase year over year. July is predicted to come in at 2.1 million TEUs, up 9.5%, with August projected at 2.17 million TEUs, up 10.6%,, and September at 2.06 million TEUs, up 1.7%. However, October is predicted to experience a slight decrease, down 2.3%, from the same month last year.

The NRF anticipates that the total TEUs for the first half of 2024 will reach 12.1 million, marking a 15% increase from the same period last year.

The rise in imports comes as the NRF is also forecasting a 2.5% to 3.5% growth in 2024 retail sales over 2023, focusing on core retail and excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants.

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