Nov 13, 2023
2023 import cargo winds down

With most imported holiday season merchandise already here, inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to slow during the remainder of 2023, according to the Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

National Retail Federation (NRF) logo“Retailers expect record-setting sales during the holiday sales season this year, and they have their shelves stocked to meet demand whether it’s in stores or at distribution centers to fulfill online orders,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at NRF. “Port, railroad and delivery service labor contract issues that caused worries earlier in the year are behind us, and the supply chain is running smoothly. Shoppers should have no trouble finding what they want this year.”

NRF is forecasting record holiday sales and growth between 3% and 4% over last year. That’s in line with pre-pandemic holiday growth rates. And the expected total of between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion would easily top the record of $929.5 billion set last year.

Even as imports wind down for the year, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said economic conditions in the U.S. are better than Europe and Asia. A decline in consumer demand brought on by recessions in both regions has left shipping companies with excess capacity on new vessels built in response to the cargo surge of the past few years.

“U.S. consumers stand out in the global economy as they continue to benefit from job and wage growth and are still able to dip into savings accumulated during the pandemic,” Hackett said. “While U.S. consumers are doing well, a global recession in cargo trade could potentially affect the supply chain.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.03 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in September, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 0.2% from the same time last year but up 3.5% from August. It was the first time imports have reached the 2 million TEU mark since October 2022. And by topping August’s 1.96 million TEU, it became the busiest month of the year so far and should go down as the peak of the holiday shipping season, according to NRF.

Ports have not yet reported October numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.92 million TEU, down 4.2% year over year. November is forecast at 1.88 million TEU, a 5.8% increase from the same time last year that would be the first year-over-year gain since June 2022. December is forecast at 1.85 million TEU, up 6.8% year over year.

Those numbers would bring 2023 to 22.1 million TEU, down 13.5% from last year. Imports during 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

January 2024 is forecast at 1.87 million, TEU, up 3.7% year over year, while February — historically the slowest month of the year because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia — is forecast at 1.72 million TEU, up 11.1% year over year. March is forecast at 1.73 million TEU, up 6.5% year over year.




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