US ports start to recover from COVID-19 pandemic

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Seattle, WA - September 28, 2019: colorful rainy sunset over port of Seattle

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on US container ports is easing, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

In its latest Global Port Tracker, made in collaboration with Hacket Associates, the NRF says that while figures are below what they were in 2019, pressure at the country’s main busiest gateways is declining.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million TEU in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 7.8 percent from a year earlier, but up 17 percent from a four-year low seen in March and significantly better than the 1.51 million TEU previously expected.

“The numbers we’re seeing are still below last year, but are better than what we expected a month ago,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.

“It may still be too soon to say but we’ll take that as a sign that the situation could be slowly starting to improve. Consumers want to get back to shopping, and as more people get back to work, retailers want to be sure their shelves are stocked.”

“Imports are erratic, with one month up and the next down,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.

“Getting 40 million people back to work will take time, especially with many fearful of catching the virus and staying home. That makes a rapid return to an economic boom unlikely.”

Imports for the six-month period from April through September are expected to total 9.74 million TEU, a 3 percent improvement from the 9.46 million TEU expected a month ago.

The first half of 2020 is forecast to total 9.46 million TEU, down 10 percent from the same period last year but better than the 9.15 million TEU expected a month ago. Before the extent of the pandemic was known, the first half of the year was forecast at 10.47 million TEU.

Imports during 2019 totaled 21.6 million TEU, a 0.8 percent decrease from 2018 amid the trade war with China but still the second-highest year on record.

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