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Retail Cargo Expected to Set Record in August

Aug. 9, 2021
Winter holiday merchandise is driving August numbers.

As consumer demand continues to stretch supply chains and retailers shift from the back-to-school season to the peak shipping season for winter holiday merchandise, imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports should hit yet another record, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released on August 6y by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Back-to-school supplies have been hit by the same supply chain disruptions and port congestion that have affected other products this year, but retailers are working hard to ensure that school and college goods are where they need to be,” NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement.

“Strong consumer demand has outpaced supply chain operations since late last year and could remain a challenge as the holidays approach," Gold added. "The continuing lack of labor, equipment and capacity has highlighted systemic issues and the need to create a truly 21st century supply chain to ensure resiliency against the next major disruption. Passage of infrastructure legislation currently pending in Congress is a key step in that direction. We need continued focus by the administration to help address these issues as well.”

Shipping and congestion continue to be a concern. “The strain of the continuing economic expansion is putting considerable pressure on the logistics supply chain,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a statement. “We’re seeing a lack of shipping capacity combined with port congestion as vessels line up to discharge goods from both Asia and Europe. Delays are stretching to landside as port terminals struggle with space shortages, and labor challenges are affecting ports, railroads and trucking companies alike. This part of the recovery is not a pretty sight.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.15 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in June, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 7.8% from May but up 33.7 % from a year earlier when many stores were closed because of the pandemic. 

Ports have not reported July numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.22 million TEU, which would be up 15.7% from the same time last year.

 August is forecast at 2.37 million TEU, which would be up 12.6% year-over-year and top May’s 2.33 million TEU for the largest number of containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. August is the beginning of the “peak season” when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year. Many retailers are moving up their shipments this year as part of their risk mitigation strategies to ensure that sufficient inventory will be available during the holidays.

Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9% over 2019 despite the pandemic

The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEU, up 35.6% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9 million TEU, up 17.5% over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year’s 22 million.

 Looking forward the forecast is as follows:

  • September at 2.21 million TEU, up 4.9% year-over-year
  • October at 2.15 million TEU, down 3 percent for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020
  • November at 2.07 million TEU, down 1.5%
  • December at 2.02 million TEU, down 4.1%  

The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEU, up 35.6% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9 million TEU, up 17.5 percent over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year’s 22 million. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9 percent over 2019 despite the pandemic.            

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