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Import cargo continues to rise — so do supply chain challenges

Cargo volume has dropped despite increased consumer spending.
Monthly inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is rising.

Monthly inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is continuing to rise despite a variety of supply chain challenges,

That’s according to the most recent Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. The latest numbers come as attacks on shipping in the Red Sea earlier this year have had an impact “beyond earlier expectations” because of lack of sufficient capacity to make up for longer voyages to avoid the region, explained Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett.

Also, political support for higher and broader tariffs on imported goods is expanding, he added, while worries over lack of a new contract with East Coast/Gulf Coast dockworkers is shifting some cargo to West Coast ports. All of those issues drive up prices for shipping and, in turn, consumers.

“The risks to global trade growth continue to increase,” Hackett said. “We are in a volatile situation with multiple pressures on the movement of goods, underpinned by continued inflationary pressures.”

Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s VP for supply chain and customs policy, noted that lulls between supply chain challenges seldom last long, and importers are currently looking at issues that include high shipping rates, unresolved port labor negotiations and continuing capacity and congestion issues from the ongoing disruptions in the Red Sea.

“Despite all of that, we’re experiencing the strongest surge in volume we’ve seen in two years, and that’s a good sign for what retailers expect in sales,” he added. “Consumers can rest assured that retailers will be well-stocked and ready to meet demand as we head into the back-to-school and holiday seasons.”

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 U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.08 million twenty-foot equivalent units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 3% from April and up 7.5% year-over-year, and was the highest number since 2.26 million TEU in August 2022. (The total includes estimates for the ports of New York and New Jersey, which have not reported TEU counts for May.)

Read More: [NRF: Retail sales to reach at least $5.23 trillion in 2024]

Ports have not yet reported June’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected that volume rose to 2.1 million TEU, up 14.5% year-over-year. July is forecast at 2.21 million TEU, up 15.5% year-over-year; August at 2.22 million TEU, up 13.5%; September at 2.1 million TEU, up 3.5%; October at 2.05 million TEU, down 0.5%, and November at 1.96 million TEU, up 3.5%.

The first half of 2024 is expected to total 12.04 million TEU, up 14.4% from the same period last year. Imports during 2023 totaled 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8% from 2022. The import numbers come as NRF is forecasting that 2024 retail sales – excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – will grow between 2.5% and 3.5% over 2023.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, 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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