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Global Port Tracker reports lowest level US retail imports in years

MAJOR US container port volume is expected to be well below last year's levels as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates

09 July 2020 - 19:00

MAJOR US container port volume is expected to be well below last year's levels as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

'Economic indicators show that the recession brought on by the pandemic may be easing, but retailers are being conservative with the amount of merchandise they import this year,' said federation vice president Jonathan Gold.



'The outlook for imports is slowly improving, but these are still some of the lowest numbers we've seen in years.' he said. Said Hackett Associates CEO Ben Hackett: 'US imports are performing like a yo-yo, up one month and down the next with no apparent cause that can realistically point to either a crashing or booming economy. We're starting to go out to eat and buy clothing again, but the danger is that the rising number of virus infections is leading to renewed restrictions, which may cause demand to weaken again.'



US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.53 million TEU in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.8 per cent from April and down 17.2 per cent year on year.



June was estimated at 1.69 million TEU, down 5.8 per cent year-over-year. July is forecast at the same 1.69 million TEU, down 14.1 per cent from last year; August at 1.69 million TEU again, down 13.3 per cent; September at 1.64 million TEU, down 12.3 per cent; October at 1.7 million TEU, down 9.9 per cent and November at 1.68 million TEU, down 0.6 per cent.



With imports usually trailing off in November and December after the bulk of holiday merchandise has arrived, the 1.7 million TEU figure for October is likely to be the busiest month of the traditional July-to-October 'peak season' for shipping. If so, it would be the lowest peak since 1.61 million in September 2014.



The outlook is about the same as a month ago, with some months higher and some lower. Imports for the six-month period from May through October are expected to total 9.94 million TEU, a 0.7 per cent improvement from the amount forecast a month ago.



The first half of 2020 is forecast to total 9.5 million TEU, down 9.3 per cent from the same period last year but better than the 10 per cent decline expected last month. Before the extent of the pandemic was known, the first half of the year was forecast at 10.47 million TEU.



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


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