Double-digit growth in imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports is slipping to single digits as pandemic-related supply chain disruptions around the world continue, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“Year-over-year growth isn’t as dramatic as it was earlier because we’re now comparing against months when most stores closed by the pandemic last year had reopened and retailers were stocking up again,” NRF vice-president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said.
“We expected that. But we’re seeing issues ranging from port closures in Asia to ships lined up waiting to dock at U.S. ports. That’s creating continuing challenges as retailers work to supply enough inventory to meet demand. The administration’s recent appointment of a supply chain task force and a port envoy are major steps forward, and we look forward to working with officials to find solutions.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.19 million TEUs in July, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up two percent from June and up 14.2 percent from a year earlier.
Busiest August on record
Ports have not reported August numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.27 million TEU, which would be up 7.8 percent year-over-year.
That would be the busiest August on record. But it would fall short of the 2.37 million TEU forecast for August a month ago, which would have broken May’s record of 2.33 million TEU for the largest number of containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.
With two dozen ships waiting as long as a week or more at anchor to unload at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently, some cargo anticipated in August may have been delayed into September. And with some sailings from Asia delayed by COVD-19 disruptions there, some cargo could arrive later in the fall than previously expected.
August is the beginning of the “peak season” when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year, and many retailers were trying to move up shipments this year to ensure that sufficient inventory will be available during the holidays.
“Supply chain logistics management is facing acute problems as disruptions make it difficult for both importers and exporters to transact their business,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said.
“We are facing shortages in all sectors of the chain: a lack of sufficient shipping capacity, which leads to increases in the cost of shipment; lack of warehousing; lack of truck and rail capacity, and a shortage of labour across the board.”
September is forecast at 2.21 million TEU, which would be up 5.1 percent year-over-year; October at 2.19 million TEU, down 1.3 percent for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020; November at 2.13 million TEU, up 1.4 percent, and December at 2.07 million TEU, down 1.8 percent. January 2022 is forecast at 2.15 million TEU, up 4.5 percent from January 2021.
The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEU, up 35.6 percent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9 million TEU, up 17.6 percent over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year’s 22 million TEU. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9 percent over 2019 despite the pandemic.
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by 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.