US retailers expect record monthly imports in H1 2021

US retailers are projecting that imports in the first half of 2021 will increase 22

15 February 2021 - 19:00
US retailers are projecting that imports in the first half of 2021 will increase 22.1 per cent over the same period last year and, more importantly, that each month will set a new record for import volumes for those months.

The projections send a message to ports, carriers, terminal operators, railroads, truckers, and equipment providers who are struggling to handle current volumes that they will have to improve productivity in order to handle the import volumes that are expected in the coming months.

In the last six months of 2020, total US imports from Asia jumped 14.5 per cent compared with the second half of 2019, led by a 22.5 per cent increase in volume handled by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to PIERS, reports IHS Media.

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said in the February Global Port Tracker report, published monthly by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates: '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 in the supply chain.'

Consumer purchasing has increased steadily since last summer when the US economy began to rebound from the economic lockdowns implemented during the first wave of the coronavirus disease 2019. Total online and in-store holiday retail sales increased 8.3 per cent in November and December over 2019 holiday sales, according to the NRF.

'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,' said Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy. 'This surge has been going on for months, and retailers are importing merchandise faster than ever.'

US imports each month from January through June are projected to increase by double-digit percentages compared with the same months last year. That's in large part because US imports from Asia declined 10.7 per cent in the first half of 2020 from the same period in 2019. So year-over-year import volumes this year will be compared with an unusually weak first half of 2020.

US imports from Asia in the second half of 2020 were up 16.9 per cent from the second half of 2019; imports for the calendar year ended up 4.1 percent higher. That means year-over-year monthly increases in the second half of 2021 will likely not be as strong as they were in the second half of 2020.

Global Port Tracker projects that imports will increase 14.6 per cent in January, 26.3 per cent in February, 41 per cent in March, 13.3 per cent in April, 23.8 per cent in May, and 18.2 per cent in June from the same months last year.

However, with monthly import volumes in this year's first half projected to set new historical records, ports and supply chains will have to gear up immediately for steadily increasing volumes.

'The import numbers we're seeing reflect retailers' expectations for consumer demand to the point that many factories in Asia that normally close for Chinese New Year this month are remaining open to keep up,' Mr Gold said.

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