Port Tracker: 2020 retail imports could set record

Date: Monday, January 11, 2021
Source: Furniture Today

WASHINGTON – Imports in 2020 could set a new record despite the coronavirus pandemic, and remain at high levels as 2021 begins.

That’s according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, which reported a near-25% increase in inbound container traffic at surveyed U.S. ports during November.

“Nobody would have thought last spring that 2020 would be a record year for imports, but it was clearly an unpredictable year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Consumers and retailers once again proved their resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges. Thanks in part to government stimulus, retail sales saw strong growth during 2020 even with the pandemic, and import numbers show retailers expect the economic recovery will continue during 2021.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.11 million twenty-foot equivalent units in November, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 24.5% year-over-year but down 4.9% from October’s 2.21 million TEU, which set the record for the largest number of containers handled during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

With high import volumes over the past few months, ships carrying goods from Asia have backed up at West Coast ports in particular and there have been shortages of shipping capacity and equipment including chassis and empty containers.

“With COVID-19 accelerating across the country, the pandemic is causing logistics problems beyond the congestion at the ports,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “With large numbers of people infected by the virus and unable to report for work, the supply chain is potentially facing challenges to find enough workers for goods distribution.”

Port Tracker projects December inbound container at 2.02 million TEUs, down 17.3% year-over-year but still one of only six times in nearly 20 years that the monthly total has hit the 2 million-TEU mark. If the December number holds up once actual data is available, 2020 will have ended with a total of 21.9 million TEUs, up 1.5% from last year and breaking the previous annual record of 21.8 million TEUs set in 2018.

Imports during the last half of 2020 set a string of new records, including an all-time high of 8.3 million TEU for the July-October peak season when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays each year.

January is forecast at 1.96 million TEUs, which would be a 7.7% increase from a year ago and the busiest January on record; February at 1.6 million TEUs, up 6.1% year-over-year; and March at 1.64 million TEUs, up 19% from March 2020, when factories in China failed to reopen after the Lunar New Year holiday because of the coronavirus. April is forecast at 1.76 million TEUs, up 9.6%, and May at 1.86 million TEUs, up 21.7%, both year-over-year.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.


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