Home NRF: Port Traffic Falls Off As Imports Slow
February 20, 2023

NRF: Port Traffic Falls Off As Imports Slow

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According to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, February import cargo volume at the major container ports in the United States should drop to almost the lowest level seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

In a report going back to 2020’s end, NRF noted that the major U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.73 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units, defined as one 20-foot container or its equivalent, in December, the latest month for which final numbers are available. Volume slipped 2.6% from November and 17.1% from December 2021. That brought 2022, which broke multiple monthly records in the year’s first half but saw significant volume drops in the second half, to an annual total of 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

Although ports hadn’t yet reported January numbers by the time NRF released the report, Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.78 million TEU, down 17.6% year over year. February is forecast at 1.57 million TEU, down 25.6% from February 2022, the slowest month since 1.53 million TEU in May 2020, when many factories in Asia and most U.S. stores were closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, only the 1.51 million TEU recorded in February 2020 and 1.37 million TEU recorded in March 2020 have been lower.

The forecast for March is 1.76 million TEU, down 24.8% year over year, while that for April is 1.87 million TEU, down 17.3%. May is forecast at 1.92 million TEU, down 19.9%, and June at 2 million, down 11.3% year over year. The forecast would bring the first half of 2023 to 10.9 million TEU, down 19.4% from the same period in 2022.

“With the U.S. economy slowing and consumers worried by rising interest rates and still-high inflation, retailers are importing less merchandise,” said NRF vp for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold in announcing the port numbers. “February is traditionally a slow month, but these are the lowest numbers we’ve seen in almost three years. Retailers are being cautious as they wait to see how the economy responds to efforts to bring inflation under control.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, “In some ways, 2023 is reminiscent of 2020, when the world’s economies shut down because of the pandemic, and no one had a clue where we were headed. Cargo volumes are down, and the economy is in a contradiction of rising employment and wages that promise prosperity at the same time high inflation and rising interest rates threaten a recession. The economy is far from shut down, but the degree of uncertainty is very similar.”

Global Port Tracker, 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.

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