U.S. ports are seeing a rise in import cargo volume after a near three-year low in February, according to the Global Port Tracker report released on Monday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. However, the report also forecasts that import volumes will remain well below last year’s levels, owing to economic uncertainty and other supply chain challenges such as trucker shortages and difficulties in getting empty containers back to terminals.
Year-over-year import volumes have been on the decline at most ports since late last year, and declining exports out of China highlight the slowdown in demand for consumer goods, according to Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett.
“With economic uncertainty continuing, the impact on trade is clear,” said Hackett, who expects imports to remain below recent levels until inflation rates and inventory surpluses are reduced.
According to the Global Port Tracker report, U.S. ports handled 1.62 million TEUs in March, a 5% increase from February but a 30.6% drop from the same period last year.
While April numbers are not yet reported, projections indicate a decline of 23.4% year-over-year to 1.73 million TEUs, with May and June forecast at 1.83 million TEUs and 1.9 million TEUs, respectively. The third quarter of 2023 is expected to total 6 million TEUs, down 7.2% from the same time last year, and the first nine months of the year would total 16.5 million TEUs, down 17.8% year-over-year.
Looking at the first half of 2023, the NRF has now revised down its forecast for retail imports, to 10.4 million TEUs from 10.8 million TEUs previously. This would mark a 22.8% from the first half of 2022.
“Our forecast now projects a larger decline in imports in the first half of this year than we forecast last month,” said Hackett.
“Consumers are still spending and retail sales are expected to increase this year, but we’re not seeing the explosive demand we saw the past two years,”said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “Congestion at the ports has largely gone away as import levels have fallen, but other supply chain challenges remain, ranging from trucker shortages to getting empty containers back to terminals. We were pleased by recent reports of progress related to the West Coast port labor negotiations but will continue to monitor the situation closely until there is a new agreement ratified by both parties.”
Overall, imports for 2022 to totaled 25.5 million TEUs, down 1.2% from the annual record set in 2021.
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