According to the monthly Global Port Tracker from the NRF and Hackett Associates, double-digit inbound container growth is slipping into single digits.
'Year-over-year growth isn't as dramatic as it was earlier, because we're now comparing against months when most stores closed by the pandemic last year had reopened and retailers were stocking up again,' said NRF vice president Jonathan Gold.
'But we're seeing issues ranging from port closures in Asia to ships lined up waiting to dock at US ports. That's creating continuing challenges as retailers work to supply enough inventory to meet demand. The administration's recent appointment of a supply chain task force and a port envoy are major steps forward, and we look forward to working with officials to find solutions,' he said.
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said the current situation makes it difficult for importers to do business. 'We are facing shortages in all sectors of the chain: a lack of sufficient shipping capacity, which leads to increases in the cost of shipment, lack of warehousing, lack of truck and rail capacity, and a shortage of labor across the board,' he said.
Ports surveyed handled 2.19 million TEU in July, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up two from June and up 14.2 per cent from a year earlier.
With two dozen ships waiting as long as a week or more at anchor to unload at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently, some cargo anticipated in August may have been delayed into September. And with some sailings from Asia delayed by Covid disruptions there, some cargo could arrive later in the fall than previously expected.
August is the beginning of the 'peak season' when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year, and many retailers were trying to move up shipments this year to ensure that sufficient inventory will be available during the holidays.
September is forecast at 2.21 million TEU, which would be up 5.1 per cent year-over-year; October at 2.19 million TEU, down 1.3 per cent for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020; November at 2.13 million TEU, up 1.4 per cent, and December at 2.07 million TEU, down 1.8 per cent. January 2022 is forecast at 2.15 million TEU, up 4.5 per cent from January 2021.
The first half of 2021 totalled 12.8 million TEU, up 35.6 per cent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9 million TEU, up 17.6 per cent over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year's 22 million TEU. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9 per cent over 2019 despite the pandemic.
Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecast for ports including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.