US ports set to break annual import record

US ports see record imports

US ports are set to break their annual import record after November traffic increased by 24.5% year-on-year (YoY), according to National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The NRF has predicted that imported cargo would reach 2.02 million TEU in December 2020. While this is down 17.3% YoY compared to 2019, which was a record-breaking year itself, it does represent one of only six months in history where the monthly import total reached over 2 million TEU.

If the December projection is correct 2020 will have ended with a total of 21.9 million TEU in imports, an increase of 1.5% YoY and breaking the previous record of 21.8 million set in 2018.

Imports during the last half of 2020 set a string of new records, including an all-time high of 8.3 million TEU for the July-October peak season when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays each year.

Despite the 24.5% jump in November 2020, traffic was down 4.9% from October 2020’s record of 2.21 million TEU – the highest monthly TEU traffic since the NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

High import volumes from Asia since June 2020 have caused a shortage of shipping capacity and equipment including chassis and empty containers at West Coast ports.

Import traffic is set to continue to increase in the early months of 2021, with the NRF predicting that ports will handle 1.96 million TEU in January – a 7.7% YoY increase – 1.6 million TEU in February – a jump of 6.1% YoY – and 1.64 million TEU – a spike of 19% YoY.

The consistent YoY increases are based on factories in China reopening after the Lunar New Year, which they failed to do in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.

April is forecast at 1.76 million TEU, up 9.6% YoY, and May at 1.86 million TEU, up 21.7% YoY.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold described 2020 as an unpredictable year and that few could have expected the surge in imports.

“Consumers and retailers once again proved their resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges,” Gold said.

“Thanks in part to government stimulus, retail sales saw strong growth during 2020 even with the pandemic, and import numbers show retailers expect the economic recovery will continue during 2021.”

Traffic plummeted at US ports at the beginning of the pandemic but most of the country’s largest gateways have seen record traffic and container equipment moves in the final months of 2020.

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