Despite an increase in consumer spending, U.S. container imports in the first half of 2023 are expected to be 22% lower than the same period last year, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) by Hackett Associates .
The report highlights disruptions occurring at West Coast ports, although these incidents have not yet had a widespread impact on nationwide data.
“Freight volume is down from last year, but retailers are heading into the busiest shipping season of the year, bringing in holiday items. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is continued disruption at ports,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president of supply chain and customs policy.
NRF issued a statement earlier this week urging the Biden administration to intervene following reports of disruptions at terminals in the ports of Oakland and Long Beach. The disruption came when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association failed to reach a new working agreement after more than a year of negotiations.
“If workers and management cannot come to an agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue moving their cargo to the East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways,” Gold said. “We continue to urge the government to step in and help the parties reach an agreement and end the disruptions so operations can return to normal.” We’ve had enough unavoidable supply chain issues in the past two years. This is not the time for something that can be avoided.”
Ben Hackett, the founder of Hackett Associates, pointed out the disconnect between the decline in container import demand and the continued growth in consumer demand. “Economists and shipping lines are increasingly wondering why the decline in demand for container imports is so at odds with continued growth in consumer demand,” Hackett said.
Despite strong employment numbers and rising personal incomes, import container shipments only reached pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and are expected to remain at these levels for the foreseeable future.
In April, US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.78 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), a 9.6% increase from March but a significant 21.3% year-on-year decline . While May’s figures have not yet been released, Global Port Tracker is forecasting a 23% year-on-year drop, equivalent to 1.84 million TEU. The forecast for June is 1.91 million TEU, down 15.3% from the same period last year. These forecasts indicate that a total of 10.5 million TEU will be transported in the first half of 2023, a decrease of 22.3% compared to the first half of 2022.
Looking ahead, Global Port Tracker forecasts a drop in import volumes for the remaining months of the year. July is expected to reach 1.99 million TEU, down 8.8% YoY, followed by August with 2.02 million TEU, down 10.5%. An import volume of 1.95 million TEU is expected in September and October, which corresponds to a decrease of 4% and 2.7% respectively.
Although no forecast has been given for the full year, a total volume of 5.97 million TEU is expected for the third quarter of 2023, a decrease of 7.9% compared to the same period last year. The first nine months of 2023 is expected to accumulate 16.48 million TEU, down 17.6% compared to the same period in 2022. The import volume for the whole of 2022 reached 25.5 million TEU, down slightly by 1.2% from the record 2021 figure of 25.8 million TEU.