NRF: Imports Remain At Record-High Levels

The flow of goods from overseas remains strong as retailers look to offset rising prices, service disruptions.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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Container Ship

Imports continue at a record-setting pace as retailers work to bring in new products as part of an effort to offset concerns about on-going rising prices, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

In its monthly Global Port Tracker report developed with Hackett Associates, U.S. ports handled 2.34 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU)–one 20-foot container or its equivalent–in March, an increase of 10.8% from February and up 3.2% year-over-year. That figure topped the previous record of 2.33 million TEU set in May 2021. 

“Retailers are importing record amounts of merchandise to meet consumer demand, but they also have an incentive to stock up before inflation can drive costs higher,” said Jonathan Gold, VP for Supply Chain and Customs Policy with the NRF. “Whether it’s freight costs or the wholesale cost of merchandise, money retailers save is money that can be used to hold down prices for their customers during a time of inflation.”

He noted that retailers are also preparing for possible disruptions as West Coast port labor negotiations are set to begin the week of May 9. 

Ports have not yet reported April numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.27 million TEU, up 5.7% from last year. May is forecast at 2.3 million TEU, which would be down 1.4% from May of 2021 but would be the third-highest level on record.

“Consumer spending is growing faster than income growth, perhaps as shoppers buy ahead of expected rising prices,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Importers are doing much the same as they continue to replenish their inventories. Doing so will protect them against potentially rising freight costs, further delays in the supply chain and complications in upcoming labor negotiations at U.S. West Coast ports.”

June is forecast at 2.29 million TEU, up 6.6% from last year; July at 2.31 million TEU, up 5.3%; August at 2.29 million TEU, up 0.9%, and September at 2.15 million TEU, up 0.3%.

The first six months of 2022 are expected to total 13.5 million TEU, up 5.1% year-over-year. Imports for all of 2021 totaled 25.8 million TEU, a 17.4% increase over 2020’s previous annual record of 22 million TEU