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Record-setting pace of container flows through US Ports set to continue, NRF forecasts

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Imports at the United States’ largest retail container ports are continuing to show double-digit growth over 2020, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.33 million TEU in May 2021, up 8.6% from April and up 52.2% from 2020.

The number set a new record for the most containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, topping the previous record of 2.27 million TEU set in March 2021.

2021 is on track to grow 16.7% over 2020’s full-year total of 22 million TEU. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9% over 2019 despite the pandemic.

Ports have not reported June numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.15 million TEU, which would be up 33.8% from the same time last year.

That would bring the 1H 2021 to 12.8 million TEU, up 35.6% from the same period last year, NRF notes.

July is forecast at 2.21 million TEU, up 15.1% year-over-year; August at 2.3 million TEU, up 9.4%; September at 2.16 million TEU, up 2.5%.

October is predicted to reach 2.13 million TEU, down 3.7% for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020; and November at 2.06 million TEU, down 2%.

Ports across the US – from the Port of Long Beach to Jaxport and the Georgia Ports Authority – have seen incredible surges in cargo movement through e-commerce driven spending from the COVID-19 pandemic.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said, “The year-over-year growth we saw this spring was off the charts because the comparisons were against a time when most stores were shut down due to the pandemic.

Gold noted that the NRF is continuing to see strong growth even as the US enters a point when stores had begun to reopen last year.

“That’s a sign of the tremendous demand from consumers. The challenge for retailers and supply chains is keeping shelves stocked as port congestion and other supply chain disruptions continue to impact the industry and the economy more broadly.”

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