NRF Expects Imports For First Half To Be 22 Percent Below H1 Last Year

NRF Expects Imports For First Half To Be 22 Percent Below H1 Last Year

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to be 22 percent lower during the first half of 2023 than the same time last year despite increased consumer spending, according to the Global Port Tracker* report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. The report comes amid disruptions at West Coast ports but the incidents have not yet been widespread enough to be reflected in nationwide data.

“Cargo volume is lower than last year but retailers are entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is ongoing disruption at the ports,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “If labor and management can’t reach an agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue to take their cargo to East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways. We continue to urge the administration 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 one that can be avoided.”

NRF recently issued a statement calling on the Biden administration to intervene following reports of disruptions at terminals at the Ports of Oakland and Long Beach. The disruptions have come as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association have failed to reach a new labor agreement after more than a year of negotiations.

“Economists and shipping lines increasingly wonder why the decline in container import demand is so much at odds with continuous growth in consumer demand,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, noting that spending has been bolstered by strong employment numbers and increases in personal income. “Import container shipments have returned to the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019 and appear likely to stay there for a while.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.78 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units—one 20-foot container or its equivalent—in April, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 9.6 percent from March but down 21.3 percent year-over-year.

Ports have not yet reported May numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.84 million TEU, down 23 percent year over year. June is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, down 15.3 percent from the same month last year. That would bring the first half of 2023 to 10.5 million TEU, down 22.3 percent from the first half of 2022.

July is forecast at 1.99 million TEU, down 8.8 percent year-over-year; August at 2.02 million TEU, down 10.5 percent; September at 1.95 million TEU, down 4 percent, and October also at 1.95 million TEU, down 2.7 percent.

Global Port Tracker has not yet forecast the full year, but the third quarter is expected to total 5.97 million TEU, down 7.9 percent from the same time last year, and the first nine months of the year should total 16.48 million TEU, down 17.6 percent year over year. Imports for all of 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2 percent from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.