Retailers expect a busy holiday season the next two months, but cargo imports at the nation’s major container ports should continue to slow from records set earlier in the year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
“Cargo levels that historically peak in the fall peaked in the spring this year as retailers concerned about port congestion, port and rail labor negotiations and other supply chain issues stocked up far in advance of the holidays,” Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said. “With a rail strike possible this month, there are still challenges in the supply chain, but the majority of holiday merchandise is already on hand and retailers are well prepared to meet demand.”
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett noted that consumer demand has fallen from peak consumption during the height of the pandemic.
“We expect the flattening of demand that began around the middle of this year to continue into the first half of 2023,” Hackett said. “This will depress the volume of imports, which have already declined in recent months. Carriers have begun to pull services and are looking at laying up ships.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled a record 2.4 million 20-foot container or equivalent units (TEU) in May, but volume has seen a mostly steady decline since then. Ports processed 2.03 million TEU in September, down 10.2 percent from August and 4.9 percent below September 2021.
Global Port Tracker projected October cargo imports were down 8.5 percent year over year to 2.02 million TEU. November is forecast at 1.92 million TEU, down 9.2 percent year over year and the lowest number since 1.87 million TEU in February 2021, the last time the monthly total fell below 2 million TEU. December is expected to drop 9 percent to 1.9 million TEU.
The first half of 2022 totaled 13.5 million TEU, a 5.5 percent increase year over year. The forecast for the remainder of the year would bring the second half to 12.3 million TEU, a 5.3 percent decline from the same period in 2021. For the full year, 2022 is expected to total 25.86 million TEU, barely changed from last year’s annual record of 25.84 million TEU.
January cargo imports are forecast to fall 8.4 percent to 1.98 million TEU and February is projected at 1.71 million TEU, down 19.1 percent from unusually high numbers last year, when backed-up cargo kept congested U.S. ports busy despite the annual Lunar New Year shutdown of Asian factories. With most congestion issues continuing to ease, the month is expected to be the slowest since 1.61 million TEU in June 2020. March is forecast at 1.99 million TEU, which would be an improvement from February but down 15.2 percent year over year.
Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., and Seattle and Tacoma, Wash, on the West Coast; New York-New Jersey; Port of Virginia; Charleston, S.C.. Savannah, Ga., and Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.