NRF: Pandemic-Driven Shipping Surge Comes to an End
January 9, 2023
a pandemic-driven surge finally over, monthly import cargo volume at the
nation’s major container ports has fallen below the 2 million TEU mark and
should remain there through most of this spring, according to the Global Port
Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett
“Ports have been stretched to their limits and beyond but are getting a break as
consumer demand moderates amid continued inflation and high interest rates,” NRF
Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.
“Consumers are still spending and volumes remain
high, but we’re not seeing the
congestion at the docks and ships waiting to unload that were widespread this
time a year ago. It’s good to escape some of the pressure, but it’s important to
use this time to address supply chain challenges that still need to be resolved
like finalizing the West Coast port labor contract.”
Imports plummeted to a four-year low of 1.37 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent
Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in March 2020 as COVID-19
prompted the temporary shutdown of much of the nation’s economy. But cargo
soared after the shutdowns ended and pent-up consumer demand was unleashed that
summer, topping 2 million TEU by that August and staying there all but one month
until this winter.
“After nearly three years of COVID-19’s impact on global trade and consumer
demand, import patterns appear to be returning to what was normal prior to
2020,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Nonetheless, as inflation
eases and consumer spending returns, we project that growth will slowly return
going into the second half of the year.”
ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.78 million TEU this November, the
latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 11.3% from
October and down 15.8% from November 2021. It was the lowest total since 1.87
million TEU in February 2021, which had been the only month in over two years to
fall below 2 million TEU.
Ports have not yet reported December numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected
the month at 1.88 million TEU, down 10.1% year over year. That would bring 2022
– which repeatedly broke monthly records in the first half of the year but saw
significant drops in the second half – to an annual total of 25.7 million TEU,
down 0.7% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.
Despite the slowdown in cargo, retail sales are on track to meet NRF’s forecast
of 6% to 8% growth over 2021 for both the full year and the holiday season when
December’s sales numbers are released next week.
January is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, down 11.5% year over year. February is
forecast at 1.63 million TEU, the lowest since 1.61 million TEU in June 2020 and
a 23% drop from last year, when backed-up cargo kept congested ports busy. March
is forecast at 1.75 million TEU, down 25.5% year over year; April at 1.94
million, down 14.5%, and May at 2 million TEU, down 16.2%.
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides
historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach,
Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of
Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the
East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.