US ports set to break monthly records as import traffic accelerates

US ports are set to break monthly records as import volumes continue to grow

US container ports will consistently set new monthly records until the summer as the nation’s economy continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates Global Port Tracker.

The NRF predicted that US ports will process 1.91 million TEU in February, a projected increase of 26.3% year-on-year (YoY). In March it predicted ports will handle imports of 1.91 million TEU, an unprecedented increase 41% YoY.

The YoY import increases will gradually slow down in April, which will see a spike of 13.3%, but continue in May – 23.8% – and June – 18.3%.

Each month between January and June will be a YoY record and the first half of 2021 will see imports increase by 22.1%, the NRF claimed.

Ports in the US, particularly those on the West Coast are experiencing severe congestion after China resumed exports to meet accelerating North American demand.

Between 25 and 30 ships are waiting at dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the congestion is being exacerbated by equipment and labour shortages.

The rush to get goods to the US has been ongoing since the last few months of 2020. The NRF said retail sales during November and December 2020 hit a record $789.4 billion, an increase of 8.3% YoY and preliminary retail figures shows sales for the whole of 2020 rose 6.8%.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Golds said the US import traffic is so busy that many factories in China will be forced to stay open throughout the Chinese New Year.

“Regardless of whether it’s in-store or on retailers’ websites, the record holiday season and numbers for 2020 show consumers are buying again and have been for a while,” Gold said.

“This surge has been going on for months, and retailers are importing merchandise faster than ever.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said, “As we continue to struggle with COVID-19 and the ups and downs in the economy, year-over-year increases in the flow of containerized goods have become dramatic.

“It is impressive that the cargo volumes handled by the ports remain as high as they are despite congestion at the docks and the spread of the coronavirus among workers throughout the supply chain.”

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