US imports surge ahead of holiday season

US ports


Imports at top US ports surged to unexpectedly high levels this summer and may have hit a new record as the nation’s economy continues to reopen and retailers stock up for the holiday season, according to a new report issued by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“It’s important to be careful how much to read into these numbers after all we’ve seen this year, but retailers are importing far more merchandise for the holidays than we expected even a month ago,” Jonathan Gold, NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy, said.

“Some of these imports are helping replenish inventories that started to run low after consumers unleashed pent-up demand when stores reopened. But this is the clearest sign yet that we could be in for a much happier holiday season than many had thought.”

“The economy has come into sharp focus, and for good cause,” Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates Founder, commented.

“The previous yo-yo pattern of import levels reached a peak in July that appears to have extended into August. Nonetheless, data from around the globe is a mix, with a weak recovery as Europe struggles with rising COVID-19 numbers but China’s exports remain solid. Will this last? A lot of uncertainty is in play.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.92 million TEUs in July, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 2.3 percent year-over-year but up 19.3 percent from June and significantly higher than the 1.76 million TEU forecast a month ago.

August was estimated at 2.06 million TEU, a 6 percent year-over-year increase. Actual August numbers won’t be known until next month, but that would be an all-time high, beating the previous record of 2.04 million TEU set in October 2018.

September is forecast at 1.89 million TEU, up 1.1 percent year over year; October at 1.71 million TEU, down 9.2 percent; November at 1.58 million TEU, down 6.8 percent, and December at 1.53 million TEU, down 11 percent.

The numbers will bring 2020 to a total of 20.1 million TEU, a drop of 6.7 percent from last year, still the lowest annual total since 19.1 million TEU in 2016. The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.6 percent from last year.

The forecast numbers call for 7.58 million TEU during the July-October “peak season” when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays, making 2020 the third-busiest peak season on record following 7.7 million TEU in 2018 and 7.66 million TEU last year.

Global Port Tracker 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.

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