Import Levels Stay Strong But Expected to Slow

The monthly National Retail Federation report predicts traffic at the nation's major ports will moderate through the end of 2022.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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U.S. Ports

Following a busy first half at the nation’s major ports, the level of imports is expected to slow for the remainder of the year, according to a new report from the National Retail Federation.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.25 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in June, down 5.9% from May’s 2.4 million TEU, but up 4.9% year over year.

June’s results brought the first half of the year to 13.5 million TEU, a 5.5% increase year over year.

Ports have not yet reported July’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.26 million TEU, up 3.2% year over year. August is forecast at 2.2 million TEU, down 3%; September at 2.15 million TEU, up 0.4%; October at 2.13 million TEU, down 3.9%; November at 2.06 million TEU, down 2.7%, and December at 2.03 million TEU, down 3%.

Those numbers would bring the second half of the year to 12.8 million TEU, down 1.5% from the same period last year. But 2022 overall is expected to total 26.3 million TEU, up 2% from last year’s annual record of 25.8 million TEU.

“Retail sales are still growing, but the economy is slowing down and that is reflected in cargo imports,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold at the NRF. “Lower volumes may help ease congestion at some ports, but others are still seeing backups and global supply chain challenges are far from over.”

One area of concern raised by Gold is the potential for disruption related to separate labor negotiations at the West Coast ports and the freight railroads. Concluding both sets of negotiations without disruption is critical as the important holiday season approaches, he said.

The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association expired July 1, and many retailers brought in cargo early and shifted to East and Gulf Coast ports to avoid any potential disruptions related to contract negotiations, with early shipments helping drive second-quarter volumes. 

The freight railroads and their union are now working with a Presidential Emergency Board to resolve their contract discussions, which have been ongoing for two years. In addition, the Port of Oakland was briefly shut down in late July amid protests by independent truckers over a new state law aimed at eliminating independent owner-operators.