US container imports are likely to peak in August as labor disputes raise supply chain concerns Ship’s crew

According to the National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker report, US container imports are expected to peak in August at just over 2 million TEU before slowly declining. This is because retailers are keeping a close eye on labor disputes that could cause disruptions in the supply chain.

In May, US ports recorded 1.93 million TEUs handled in container imports, up 8.5% from April but down 19.3% year-on-year.

The Global Port Tracker report expects imports to total 1.86 million TEU in June, down 17.5% yoy and 3.6% from May. It is expected to reach 10.6 million TEU in the first half of 2023, down 22% from the same period in 2022. 1.94 million TEU is forecast for July, down 11% year-on-year.

The NRF expects US import cargo volume to peak in August at 2.03 million TEU, which would mark the highest monthly volume since last October, but would have been down 10.1% year-on-year.

1.96 million TEU are forecast for September, down 3.4%; October at 1.97 million TEU, down 1.8% and November at 1.88 million TEU, up 5.9%, the first year-on-year increase since June 2022.

“Taken together, these numbers point to another quarter of economic growth, which should confirm that the prospect of a recession appears less likely,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which produces the Global Port Tracker for the NRF. According to Hackett, GDP growth for the first quarter has been revised up to 2%, consumer demand is resilient and consumers continue to spend while retailers and wholesalers are reducing inventories.

While the NRF has yet to release its full-year forecast, imports are expected to total 5.9 million TEU in the third quarter, down 8.3% year-on-year. In the first nine months of the year, they will total 16.5 million TEU, down 17.6% year-on-year.

In 2022, imports totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the record 25.8 million TEU in 2021.

Meanwhile, retailers are closely monitoring labor disputes at ports in western Canada and a possible strike by Teamsters against United Parcel Service, which could disrupt the supply chain, the NRF said.

“We were relieved that workers and management at West Coast ports reached an interim agreement last month, but that doesn’t mean the supply chain disruptions are over,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president of supply chain and customs policy. “The Vancouver and Prince Rupert port strikes should not have a major impact here, but could affect some US retailers whose goods arrive via Canada and could potentially impact other ports.”

The NRF notes that the Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert handled over 185,000 TEUs in May, accounting for about 9% of the combined U.S. and Canadian container imports at the ports tracked in the NRF’s full Global Port Tracker report .

“Meanwhile, the ability to move goods from US ports to stores could be impacted if UPS and the Teamsters don’t resolve their differences before their contract expires at the end of the month. We urge all parties in both negotiations to get back to the table and continue their efforts to reach a final agreement without engaging in disruptive activities. Seamless supply chains are critical for retailers as we head into peak shipping season with the winter holidays,” said Gold.

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