Container imports are expected to rise slowly from the February low

After one of the lowest levels in import cargo volume since the pandemic began, major container ports in the United States are expected to see a slow increase in import cargo volume, according to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

While final figures for February have yet to be reported, Global Port Tracker forecast an “unusually large” drop to 1.56 million TEU, down 26.2% year-on-year and 13.6% below January levels . That would make February the slowest month since May 2020, when many factories in Asia and US stores were closed due to the pandemic. However, it’s important to note that February is typically the slowest month of the year due to Lunar New Year plant closures in Asia and the lull in retailers between the holiday season and spring shopping.

“Retailers are maintaining reduced inventory in anticipation of rebuilding with new seasonal inventory once they have a clearer picture of expected consumer spending,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which makes the Global Port Tracker for the NRF. “While import volumes remain low, the tight labor market and high wages are helping consumers absorb the impact of inflation and keep spending.”

From this month, imports are expected to increase slowly until midsummer, but remain well below the high level of the previous year. March is expected to reach 1.74 million TEU, down 25.9% YoY, and April is expected to reach 1.87 million TEU, down 17.2%. May is expected to reach 1.92 million TEU, down 19.7% year-on-year. June is expected to hit 2 million TEU, the first time imports have hit the 2 million TEU mark since October, but are still down 11.5% from last June. July is expected to reach 2.13 million TEU, down 2.5% year-on-year.

“There are many uncertainties surrounding the economy, but we expect imports to show modest gains over the next few months,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Growth is a positive sign, but levels are still well below normal and retailers will remain cautious as they work to adjust inventories to meet consumer demand.”

The first half of 2023 is expected to reach 10.9 million TEU, down 19.5% from the first half of 2022. Import cargo volume for 2022 was 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

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