The latest Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates suggests that inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports will increase year-over-year through the first half of 2024 despite attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

“Only about 12 percent of U.S.-bound cargo comes through the Suez Canal, but the situation in the Red Sea is bringing volatility and uncertainty that are being felt around the globe,” explained NRF VP for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “U.S. retailers are working to mitigate the impact of delays and increased costs. However, the longer the disruptions occur, the bigger the impact this could have. More needs to be done among partners and allies to ensure the safety of vessels and crews in order to avoid yet another year of supply chain disruption.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said carriers are using a surplus of capacity built up during the pandemic to ease the impact as cargo ships are diverted around the Cape of Good Hope or to the U.S. West Coast, and improvements are underway. “The shipping industry has rapidly adjusted by adding extra vessels to its networks and has returned to normal weekly ship arrivals,” Hackett said. “Service from Asia to the U.S. East Coast is working well, and the dramatic rise in freight rates is showing signs of easing, with pressure from shippers likely to quickly bring these down.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.87 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), one 20-foot container or its equivalent, in December, the latest month for which final numbers are available, down 1 percent from November but up 8.3 percent year-over-year, the report indicated.

“December’s results brought 2023 to 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8 percent from 2022,” the report said.

Ports have not reported January’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.81 million TEU, up 0.3 percent year-over-year. 

February is forecasted at 1.86 million TEU, up 20.4 percent year-over-year, and March is forecasted at 1.71 million TEU, up 5.5 percent from 2023. February is traditionally the slowest month because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia, but the timing of the holiday and its impact on cargo and year-over-year comparisons varies. 

April is forecasted at 1.83 million TEU, up 2.6 percent year-over-year; May at 1.94 million, up 0.3 percent; and June at 1.93 million TEU, up 5.5 percent. “Those numbers would bring the first half of 2024 to 11.1 million TEU, up 5.3 percent from the same period last year,” the report projected.

Global Port Tracker, produced for the 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.

Image courtesy Port of Charleston