US container imports see biggest decline in over a decade

Container imports to the US last month saw their biggest drop in more than a decade.

In his latest report ports, industry veteran John McCown said that inbound containers at the top 10 US ports fell 17.9% year over year in January, marking the highest monthly decline since the 2008 financial crisis. January now marks seven consecutive months of year-on-year declines.

Admittedly, the first half of last year set several monthly records as the pandemic-driven import surge continued through the first six months of 2022 before faltering.

West Coast ports again saw the largest declines in January, down 23.5% year-on-year as potential labor unrest continues to weigh on volumes. For comparison, ports on the east and gulf coasts only saw a 12.6% drop in January.

“Inbound loads this January compared to January 2019 represented a four-year CAGR of minus 1.4%,” writes McCown. “Expanding the month-to-month comparison to 2017 before any tariff impact results in a positive 6-year CAGR of 0.9%. These rates are well below the twenty-year CAGR of 4.0% comparing total annual inbound cargoes in 2022 versus 2002.”

On the other hand, containerized exports continue to improve, with outgoing volume rising 11.9% over the last month to just over 811,000 TEU, marking the third monthly increase and best month of the last 20, according to McCown.

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