Import cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to climb toward an August peak this summer, according to the Global Port Tracker report* released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. NRF said that despite a tentative contract agreement reached at West Coast ports, retailers are closely following labor disputes at the ports in Western Canada and a potential teamsters strike against United Parcel Service (UPS).

“We were relieved that labor and management at West Coast ports reached a tentative agreement last month, but that doesn’t mean supply chain disruptions are over,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The port strike affecting Vancouver and Prince Rupert shouldn’t have a major impact here but could affect some U.S. retailers whose merchandise comes in through Canada and could have a potential ripple effect at other ports. Meanwhile, the ability to move goods from U.S. ports to stores could be impacted if UPS and the Teamsters don’t resolve their differences before their contract expires at the end of the month. We urge all parties in both negotiations to get back to the table and continue efforts to reach a final deal without engaging in disruptive activity. Seamless supply chains are critical for retailers as we head into the peak shipping season for the winter holidays.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett noted that first-quarter gross domestic product growth was revised upward to 2 percent, consumer demand is stable, consumers have continued spending, while retailers and wholesalers have reduced their inventories. “These numbers together point toward another quarter of economic growth, which should confirm that the prospect of a recession is looking less likely,” he said.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.93 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (one 20-foot container or its equivalent) in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 8.5 percent from April but down 19.3 percent year-over-year.

Ports have not reported June numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.86 million TEU, down 17.5 percent year-over-year, bringing the first half of 2023 to 10.6 million TEU, down 22 percent from the first half of 2022.

July is forecasted at 1.94 million TEU, down 11 percent year-over-year; August at 2.03 million TEU, down 10.1 percent year-over-year, but the first month since last October to reach 2 million TEU; September is forecasted at 1.96 million TEU, down 3.4 percent; October at 1.97 million TEU, down 1.8 percent, and November at 1.88 million TEU, up 5.9 percent for the first year-over-year increase since June 2022.

Global Port Tracker has not forecasted the full year, but the third quarter is expected to total 5.9 million TEU, down 8.3 percent from last year, and the first nine months of the year should total 16.5 million TEU, down 17.6 percent year-over-year.

Imports for 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2 percent from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.

Canada’s Vancouver and Prince Rupert ports are included in those totals. Not all of the cargo from those ports comes to the U.S., but the two together handled over 185,000 TEU in May and accounted for approximately 9 percent of combined U.S.-Canadian container imports at ports covered by the full Global Port Tracker report.

* 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. The Global Port Tracker report is free to NRF retail members.

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