Imports of cargo at the nation’s largest retail container ports are expected to hit a new record in August as retailers transition from the back-to-school season to peak shipping season for holiday merchandise.
Strong consumer demand, however, has overtaken supply chain operations since late last year and could remain a challenge as the holidays approach, warned Jonathan Gold, vice president, chain. Procurement and Customs Policy, National Retail Federation, in the latest Global Port Tracker monthly report published by NRF and Hackett Associates. “The persistent lack of manpower, equipment and capacity has highlighted systemic issues and the need to create a true 21st century supply chain to ensure resilience in the face of the next major disruption. “
The pressure of continued economic expansion puts considerable strain on the logistics supply chain, added Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.
“We are seeing a lack of shipping capacity combined with port congestion as ships line up to unload goods from Asia and Europe,” he said. “Delays are spreading to the city side as port terminals grapple with space shortages and labor issues plague ports, railways and trucking companies. “
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker processed 2.15 million twenty-foot equivalent units in June, the latest month for which final figures are available. This was down 7.8% from May but up 33.7% from a year earlier, when many stores were closed due to the pandemic. (A TEU is a 20ft container or its equivalent.)
Ports have yet to release July figures, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.22 million TEUs, which would be up 15.7% from the same period last year. .
August is forecast at 2.37 million TEUs, which would represent a 12.6% year-over-year increase and surpass May’s 2.33 million TEU for the largest number of containers imported in a single month since NRF started tracking imports in 2002.
August marks the start of “peak season” when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year. Many retailers are increasing their shipments this year as part of their risk mitigation strategies to ensure sufficient stock will be available during the holidays.
September is forecast at 2.21 million TEUs, up 4.9% year-on-year; October to 2.15 million TEUs, down 3% for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020; November to 2.07 million TEU, down 1.5%, and December to 2.02 million TEU, down 4.1%.
The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEUs, up 35.6% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9 million TEUs, up 17.5% from 2020 and a new annual record exceeding 22 million from last year. Freight imports in 2020 increased by 1.9% compared to 2019 despite the pandemic.
Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the US 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.