Home Ports Slowing Post-Holiday Amid East Coast Disruption Concern
January 9, 2024

Ports Slowing Post-Holiday Amid East Coast Disruption Concern

Posted In: Retail Articles

Inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports should gradually slow during the 2024 first quarter before beginning to build again in the spring, according to the Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. 

Meanwhile, recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea are prompting concerns about some shipping disruptions, mainly impacting East Coast ports.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.89 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – during November, the last month for which final numbers are available. Volume slipped 8% from 2.06 million TEU in October, which was the busiest month of 2023 and the peak of the fall holiday shipping season. Still, it was up 6.6% from November 2022.

Ports haven’t yet reported December numbers, but Global Port Tracker has projected the month at 1.89 million TEU, up 9% year over year. With that, December port volume would bring 2023 to 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8% from 2022. Imports for 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.3% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

Port Tracker expects a port volume gain to 1.92 million TEU in January, a year-over-year increase of 6.1%, before shipment throughput slows down for the remainder of the first quarter. The organization forecasts February at 1.76 million TEU, up 13.8% year over year, and March at 1.7 million TEU, up 4.7% from a year earlier. February is traditionally the slowest volume month because of the Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia, but the timing of the holiday and its impact on cargo shipments varies. Port Tracker forecasts April port volume at 1.79 million TEU, up 0.2% year over year, and May at 1.92 million, down 0.8% from the annum prior.

In looking at worldwide developments and their impact on shipping as 2024 begins, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said any effect from recent attacks on vessels transiting the Red Sea would most likely come at East Coast ports. Most cargo headed to the East Coast from Asia comes across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal. However, some comes through the Red Sea before crossing the Atlantic, and if carriers decide to go around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the attacks, changed routing will add five or six days to the month-long trip from Shanghai to Savannah via the Suez Canal. Already, some retailers are reporting shipment delays as long as two weeks, according to Port Tracker.

“The number of containers arriving at East Coast ports should not be directly affected if carriers add ships to maintain capacity, but shippers will have to adjust their supply chains to cope with longer transit times,” Hackett indicated. “We may see an increase of Asian cargo arriving at West Coast ports and then shipped east via intermodal rail, but doing so is costly and does not save that much time. As might be expected, carriers are passing on the additional voyage costs and then some.”

NRF’s Jonathan Gold,  vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said, “This is the traditional slowdown when the supply chain gets a break after the busy holiday season, but there’s always a new challenge on the horizon. Attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea have been in the headlines and the disruptions caused by those attacks have once again created volatility in retail supply chains. Retailers are working with their carrier partners on mitigation strategies to limit the impact, but we are seeing longer transit times and increased costs as a result.”

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.

Share Now!

Related Posts: