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11/07/2022

Import Level Slow Down Expected To Continue Into 2023

The monthly port tracker from the National Retail Federation shows a lower level of products moving through the nations ports in the coming months.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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supply chain shipping

Cargo traffic at the nation’s major ports will slow over the coming months, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Since ports covered in the report reached a record of 2.4 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in May, the flow of goods has steadily declined. 

Ports processed 2.03 million TEU in September, the latest month for which final numbers are available, down 4.9% from September 2021. Ports have not yet reported October’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.02 million TEU, down 8.5% year over year. 

November is forecast at 1.92 million TEU, down 9.2% year over year and the lowest number since 1.87 million TEU in February 2021, the last time the monthly total fell below 2 million TEU. December is expected to drop to 1.9 million TEU, down 9% year over year.

“Cargo levels that historically peak in the fall peaked in the spring this year as retailers concerned about port congestion, port and rail labor negotiations and other supply chain issues stocked up far in advance of the holidays,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. “With a rail strike possible this month, there are still challenges in the supply chain, but the majority of holiday merchandise is already on hand and retailers are well prepared to meet demand.”

The first half of 2022 totaled 13.5 million TEU, a 5.5% increase year over year. The forecast for the remainder of the year would bring the second half to 12.3 million TEU, down 5.3% year over year. For the full year, 2022 is expected to total 25.86 million TEU, up slightly from 2021’s annual record of 25.84 million TEU.

Looking at the start of 2023 January is forecast at 1.98 million TEU, down 8.4% from January 2022. February is forecast at 1.71 million TEU, down 19.1% from unusually high numbers last year, when backed-up cargo kept congested U.S. ports busy despite the annual Lunar New Year shutdown of Asian factories. With most congestion issues continuing to ease, the month is expected to be the slowest since 1.61 million TEU in June 2020. March is forecast at 1.99 million TEU, which would be an improvement from February but down 15.2% year-over-year.

“We expect the flattening of demand that began around the middle of this year to continue into the first half of 2023,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “This will depress the volume of imports, which has already declined in recent months. Carriers have begun to pull services and are looking at laying up ships.”