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Port Data Shows West Coast Congestion Moving East

Major U.S. container ports for retail goods have begun to catch up with the backlog of cargo seen over the past several months, but could experience another surge this summer, the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates said Thursday.

“As we entered 2022, the biggest question was when the supply chain would return to normal,” Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF, said. “Unfortunately, we still don’t have a definitive answer. Congestion at West Coast ports has eased, but congestion at some East Coast ports is growing. Ports aren’t as overwhelmed as they were a year ago, but they are still significantly busy moving near-record volumes of cargo.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.11 million 20-foot container or equivalent units (TEU) in February, which was down 2.3 percent from January but up 13 percent year-over-year.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said volumes remained high in February despite factories in parts of Asia closing for the Lunar New Year due to U.S. ports processing ships already waiting for a berth.

“With West Coast ports still congested, there were still plenty of containers to be unloaded,” Hackett said.

Similarly, the current near-total Shanghai shutdown to curb a Covid-19 outbreak means fewer ships are leaving China and “the wait on that side of the Pacific will help reduce the pressure of vessel arrivals at Los Angeles-area terminals,” he said, adding that an influx of vessel arrivals following the resumption of normal operations in China could result in renewed congestion at U.S. ports, however.

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For March, Global Port Tracker projected 2.27 million TEU were handled, unchanged from the same month last year. April was forecast at 2.13 million TEU, down 1.1 percent from last year, and May at 2.21 million TEU, off 5.3 percent year-over-year.

Increases are expected to resume in June–forecast to be up 5.2 percent to 2.26 million TEU. July shipments are projected to increase 5.6 percent to 2.32 million TEU,  and August cargo input is seen rising 3.3 percent to 2.35 million TEU, which would set a record for the number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. The current record is 2.33 million TEU in May 2021.

The first six months of 2022 are expected to total 13.1 million TEU, up 2.5 percent year-over-year. Imports for all of 2021 were 25.8 million TEU, a 17.4 percent increase over 2020’s previous annual record of 22 million TEU.

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.