Import cargo volume at major U.S. container ports is expected to reach its highest level in nearly a year this month as retailers prepare for the winter holidays, the National Retail Federation said Monday.
The resolution of critical labor negotiations means retailers can now focus on upcoming the holiday import season. West Coast ports and United Parcel Service have reached tentative contract agreements, while a Canadian port strike ended with a tentative agreement that was ratified on Friday. Ratification processes are ongoing for the other agreements.
“Port and package-delivery labor negotiations that threatened the supply chain at the beginning of the summer have been resolved and retailers are now focused on preparing for the all-important holiday season,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “There are always supply challenges to be faced but holiday merchandise is flowing into the country, and we expect to see a smooth shipping season ahead of the winter holiday shopping season.”
Despite increased consumer spending and employment in the U.S., cargo volumes have seen double-digit year-over-year declines, according to Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett.
“Dollar figures for international trade show imports remain in a year-over-year decline and cargo volume shows the same,” Hackett said. “The discrepancy between rising growth in sales and declining cargo volumes is happening because retailers are working their way through inventory built up over the last 12 to 18 months. Cargo growth should resume as inventories are depleted.”
In June, U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.83 million TEUs, down 5.2% from May and 18.7% YoY. The first half of 2023 saw a total of 10.5 million TEUs, down 22% from the same period in 2022.
Global Port Tracker projects that August will be the first month to reach 2 million TEUs since last October, but still down 10.2% YoY. September is forecast to be down 3%, October down 1%, November up 8% (first YoY increase since June 2022), and December up 10.7% YoY. July’s numbers are not yet reported, but the month is expected to come in at 1.91 million TEUs, down 12.7% year over year.
These numbers would bring 2023’s container imports total to 22.3 million TEUs, down 12.8% from last year’s 25.5 million TEUs. The all-time annual record was set in 2021 at the peak of pandemic-fueled shipping boom, with 25.8 million TEUs imported.
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