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Retail Will Grow Dramatically First Half of 2021 Says NRF

Retail Will Grow Dramatically First Half of 2021

March 9, 2021
"The supply chain slowdown we usually see after the holiday season never really happened this winter, and imports are already starting to grow again," said Jonathan Gold, of National Retail Federation.

As increased vaccination and continued in-store safety measures enable additional shopping options, imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports are expected to grow dramatically during the first half of 2021 according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released on March 8 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“NRF is forecasting what could turn out to be record retail sales growth in 2021, and retailers are importing huge amounts of merchandise to meet the demand,” NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement.

“The supply chain slowdown we usually see after the holiday season never really happened this winter, and imports are already starting to grow again. Consumers haven’t let the pandemic stop them from shopping, and retailers are making sure their customers can find what they want and find it safely," Gold added.

The arrival of vaccines played a role in consumers' optimism. “As COVID-19 ravaged the economy in 2020, it seemed as if any hope of recovery was distant,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a statement. “Then came the rollout of vaccines that appear to be highly effective and are bringing strong signs of a quick recovery. The successful distribution of vaccines will help ensure that the economic recovery will likely be strong and sustainable.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.06 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in January, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 2.3% from December as the busy holiday season came to an end. But with a 13% year-over-year increase, it was the busiest January since NRF began tracking imports in 2002 and the first time the month has ever topped the 2 million TEU mark.

While import numbers for both February and March are forecast to be significantly higher than normal, year-over-year comparisons are difficult because of the pandemic. February is traditionally the slowest month of the year as Asian factories close for Chinese New Year, but last year most remained closed into March because of the coronavirus, reducing numbers even further.

This year, however, some remained open during the holiday in order to fill a surge in orders, and ships arriving at U.S. ports faced a backlog to unload. February results aren’t available yet, but the month was projected at 1.88 million TEU, up 24.4% over last year, while March is forecast at 1.98 million TEU, up 44.1%.

 Other forecasts include: April is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 18.2% year-over-year

  • May at 1.92 million TEU, up 25.2%
  • June also at 1.92 million TEU, up 19.6%
  • July at 2.02 million TEU, up 5.3%.

The first half of 2021 is forecast at 11.7 million TEU, up 23.3% from the same period in 2020, which experienced a major decline in imports due to COVID-19. Imports saw a total of 22 million TEU in 2020, up 1.9% from 2019’s 21.6 million TEU and beating the previous record of 21.8 million TEU recorded in 2018.

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