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Import cargo volume returning to normal amid efforts to minimize impact of attacks

cargo ship
Carriers are avoiding the Red Sea and the initial surge in shipping prices and delays is subsiding.

The supply chain is adjusting to ongoing Houthi rebel attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Retailers continue to work with their partners to mitigate the impact of disruptions from the Red Sea and Panama Canal restrictions, according to the new Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. Inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is on track to show year-over-year increases through the first half of 2024 as

“Cargo has been rerouted and goods are arriving where they are needed and in time to meet consumer demand despite the ongoing challenges,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Retailers have been impacted by costs and shipping delays, but they are working to minimize any impact on consumers.”

Carriers are avoiding the Red Sea and the initial surge in shipping prices and delays is subsiding, according to Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. Some cargo that previously traveled from Asia via the Red Sea and Suez Canal across the Atlantic to the U.S. East Coast is now going around the Cape of Good Hope instead. 

There has been an uptick in cargo shipped across the Pacific to the West Coast. And some ships are traveling across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal to reach the East Coast.

“Despite the shipping disruptions cause by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, the global trade of consumer goods, industrial materials and bulk commodities continues to flow relatively smoothly,” Hackett said. “Fear of an inflationary impact due to the raised cost of transportation should be alleviated by now. Retailers and their carrier partners are adjusting to the re-routings and new schedules, which add new costs but those can be partially offset by not having to sail up the Red Sea and not having to pay Suez Canal transit costs. This will continue until there is a resolution and freedom of navigation through the Red Sea and Suez Canal.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.96 million twenty-foot equivalent units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in January, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 4.7% from December and up 8.6% year over year. 

Ports have not yet reported February’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.9 million TEU, up 22.7% year over year. March is forecast at 1.77 million TEU, up 8.8% from last year.

February is traditionally the slowest month because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia but the timing of the holiday and its impact on cargo and year-over-year comparisons varies. 

April is forecast at 1.84 million TEU, up 3.1% year over year; May at 1.94 million, up 0.5%; June also at 1.94 million TEU, up 5.7%, and July at 1.99 million TEU, up 3.8%.

The first half of 2024 is expected to total 11.5 million TEU, up 7.8% from the same period last year. Imports during 2023 totaled 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8% from 2022.

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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