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Imports for First Half of 2023 Expected to be 22% Below Last Year

Imports for First Half of 2023 Below Last Year

June 9, 2023
With retailers entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise, the NRF said the last thing retailers need is ongoing disruption at the ports.

During the first half of 2023,  import cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to be 22% lower than at the same time last year. This is despite increased consumer spending, according to the Global Port Tracker report released on June 7 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 Jonathan Gold said. in a statement.

“If labor and management can’t reach 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" Gold added. "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 the past two years. This is not the time for one that can be avoided.”

NRF earlier this week 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 in a statement, noting that spending has been bolstered by strong employment numbers and increases in personal income. “Import container shipments have returned to  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 in April, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 9.6% from March but down 21.3% year over year.

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

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

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% from the same time last year, and the first nine months of the year should total 16.48 million TEU, down 17.6% year over year. Imports for all of 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.