As retailers prepare to meet increased consumer demand, there has been a surge of imports at retail container ports since last summer and is expected to continue at least through the end of this summer, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation or NRF and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.
“We’ve never seen imports at this high a level for such an extended period of time. Records have been broken multiple times and near-record numbers are happening almost every month,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy.
Consumers are spending money they have saved by staying home and federal stimulus checks for the past few months. This has required retailers to stock and restock their shelves faster.
The U.S. ports surveyed in the report handled 1.87 million TEU in February, the latest month for which figures are available, the report said. This is the busiest February since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.
While the February number is a 9.1 percent decline from January, it also marks a 23.7 percent growth year-over-year.
The surge of imports at retail container ports resulted in months of backups at ports, which have faced labor shortages because of COVID-19 infections and equipment shortages because of the volume.
According to the report, there were only 17 ships that were reported waiting off LA/Long Beach, the nation’s busiest port complex, in recent days as the global supply chain continues to be strained by multiple disruptions, including the recent blockage of the Suez Canal. This is compared to about 30 ships a month ago.
For the month of March, container import volumes are now estimated to be 2.07 million TEU, a surge of 50.7 percent year-over-year, with comparisons hurt by the pandemic. March 2020 was the time when Asian factories remained closed even after February’s Lunar New Year holiday. U.S. businesses were also starting to close to avoid spreading the virus at that time
Volumes are also forecast to grow 23.4 percent year-over-year to 1.99 million TEU in April; 30.6 percent to 2.0 million TEU in May; 24.9 percent to 2.01 million TEU in June; and 6.5 percent to 2.04 million TEU in July. Meanwhile, it is projected to decline 1.2 percent to 2.08 million TEU in August for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020.
Under the current forecast, volume is expected to remain at or above the 2 million TEU mark for 11 out of 13 months by this August. Before 2020, monthly imports had reached 2 million TEU only once, in October 2018.
For the first half of 2021, import volumes are forecast at 11.99 million TEU, up 26.9 percent from last year, when there was a major decline in imports due to COVID-19.
Total import volumes for 2020 were 22 million TEU, a growth of 1.9 percent from 2019’s 21.6 million TEU. The 2020 volumes beat the previous record of 21.8 million TEU recorded in 2018.
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