Port congestion continues; 40 ships waiting to dock in LA

Marianne Wilson
shipping container
Imports at the nation’s ports are expected to grow modestly during the first half of 2022.

Import growth is expected to moderate during the first half of 2022 giving the nation’s congested container ports a much-needed break.

Imports at the nation’s ports are expected to grow modestly during the first half of 2022, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hacker Associates. But continued high volumes will keep up the pressure that built as the economy bounced back from the pandemic last year.

“We’re not going to see the dramatic growth in imports we saw this time last year, but the fact that volumes aren’t falling is a clear sign of continued consumer demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy.

Congestion remains on both coasts. The Port of Los Angeles alone has around 40 ships waiting to dock, according to Ben Hackette, founder, Hackett Associates.

“With Lunar New Year factory closings in Asia this month and the consequent drop in export production, North American terminals will have an opportunity to reduce existing congestion,” he said. “Nonetheless, backups cannot be erased quickly as long as terminals continue to face a lack of space brought on by the supply chain’s inability to efficiently transfer cargo out of the terminals to its end destinations.  A shortage of equipment, worker availability and storage space at distribution centers and warehouses across the country remains problematic, as does the export of empty containers back to Asia.”
Hackett added that as more ships arrive each day and delays meaning some cargo won’t get unloaded until the following month, shifts in import patterns could be difficult to follow for the next few months.

Last year set a new bar for imports, and the numbers remain high as consumers continue to spend despite COVID-19 and inflation, according to NRF’s Gold.

“The slowdown in cargo growth will be welcome as the supply chain continues to try to adapt to these elevated volumes,” he said. “Unfortunately, many experts expect ongoing disruptions throughout 2022 for a variety of reasons.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker are expected to handle 13 million twenty-foot equivalent units – one 20-ft. container or its equivalent – during the first half of 2022, up 1.5% over the 12.8 million TEU handled during the same period in 2021. By contrast, the first half of 2021 saw a record 35.7% increase over the unusually slow first six months of 2020, when many Asian factories and U.S. stores were shut down because of the pandemic.

The ports handled 2.09 million TEU in December 2021, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 1.2% from November and down 1% year-over-year. Imports for all of 2021 totaled 25.8 million TEU, a 17.4% increase over 2020’s record high of 22 million TEU that was set despite the pandemic.

Ports have not yet reported January numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.15 million TEU, up 4.4% year-over-year. February is forecast at 2.04 million TEU, up 8.7%; March at 2.12 million TEU, down 6.7%; April at 2.19 million TEU, up 2%; May at 2.27 million TEU, down 2.6%, and June at 2.26 million TEU, up 5.2%.

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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