Monthly inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports continues to rise despite various supply chain challenges, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.08 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (one 20-foot container or its equivalent) in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. This was up 3 percent from April and up 7.5 percent year-over-year and the highest number since 2.26 million TEU in August 2022. The total includes estimates for New York and New Jersey ports, which have not reported TEU counts for May.

“Lulls between supply chain challenges seldom last long, and importers are currently looking at issues including high shipping rates, unresolved port labor negotiations and continuing capacity and congestion issues from the ongoing disruptions in the Red Sea,” explained NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold. “Despite all of that, we’re experiencing the strongest surge in volume we’ve seen in two years, and that’s a good sign for what retailers expect in sales. Consumers can rest assured that retailers will be well-stocked and ready to meet demand as we head into the back-to-school and holiday seasons.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said the latest numbers come from attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea earlier this year, which had an impact “beyond earlier expectations” because of the lack of sufficient capacity to make up for longer voyages to avoid the region. Political support for higher and broader tariffs on imported goods is expanding, and worries over the lack of a new contract with East Coast/Gulf Coast dockworkers have shifted some cargo to West Coast ports. Those issues drive up shipping prices and, in turn, consumers.

“The risks to global trade growth continue to increase,” Hackett said. “We are in a volatile situation with multiple pressures on the movement of goods, underpinned by continued inflationary pressures.”

Ports have not reported June numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected that the volume for the month rose to 2.1 million TEU, up 14.5 percent year-over-year. July is forecasted at 2.21 million TEU, up 15.5 percent year-over-year; August at 2.22 million TEU, up 13.5 percent; September at 2.1 million TEU, up 3.5 percent; October at 2.05 million TEU, down 0.5 percent, and November at 1.96 million TEU, up 3.5 percent.

The first half of 2024 is expected to total 12.04 million TEU, up 14.4 percent from the same period last year. Imports during 2023 totaled 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8 percent from 2022.

The import numbers coincide with the NRF forecasting that 2024 retail sales, excluding auto dealers, gas stations, and restaurants to focus on core retail, will grow between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent over 2023.

Global Port Tracker, which is 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.