Imports at U.S. container ports continue to slow from the records set earlier in 2022, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker* report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Cargo levels that historically peak in the fall peaked in the spring this year as retailers concerned about port congestion, port and rail labor negotiations, and other supply chain issues stocked up far in advance of the holidays,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “With a rail strike possible this month, there are still challenges in the supply chain, but the majority of holiday merchandise is already on hand, and retailers are well prepared to meet demand.”

While consumers continue to spend, Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said demand fell from peak consumption during the height of the pandemic.

“We expect the flattening of demand that began around the middle of this year to continue into the first half of 2023,” Hackett said. “This will depress the volume of imports, which has already declined in recent months. Carriers have begun to pull services and are looking at laying up ships.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled a record 2.4 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units, one 20-foot container or its equivalent, in May, but volume has steadily declined.

Ports processed 2.03 million TEU in September, the latest month for which final numbers are available, down 10.2 percent from August and down 4.9 percent from September 2021.

U.S. Ports have not reported October numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.02 million TEU, down 8.5 percent year-over-year. November is forecast at 1.92 million TEU, down 9.2 percent year-over-year and the lowest number since 1.87 million TEU in February 2021, the last time the monthly total fell below 2 million TEU. December is expected to drop to 1.9 million TEU, down 9 percent year-over-year.
The first half of 2022 totaled 13.5 million TEU, a 5.5 percent increase year-over-year. The forecast for the remainder of 2022 would bring the second half to 12.3 million TEU, down 5.3 percent year-over-year. For the full year, 2022 is expected to total 25.86 million TEU, barely changing from last year’s annual record of 25.84 million TEU.

January 2023 is forecast at 1.98 million TEU, down 8.4 percent from January 2022. February is forecast at 1.71 million TEU, down 19.1 percent from unusually high numbers in 2021 when cargo congested U.S. ports despite the Lunar New Year shutdown of Asian factories. With most congestion issues easing, the month is expected to be the slowest since 1.61 million TEU in June 2020. March is forecasted at 1.99 million TEU, an improvement from February but down 15.2 percent year-over-year.

The cargo data comes as NRF forecasted that the 2022 holiday retail sales season would grow between 6 percent and 8 percent over 2021 to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion.

*Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of 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.

Photo courtesy Port of Seattle, WA