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Port congestion continues on both coasts

Supply chain problems are helping to fuel ongoing congestion at the nation’s container ports.

There is no let up in sight to the congestion clogging the nation’s major retail ports.

Imports at the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to be at near-record levels this spring and summer as consumer demand and supply chain challenges continue to result in congestion, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker,  released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Congestion continues on both coasts, with ships queuing for berths at multiple ports,” said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. “Problems remain with clearing import containers to their inland destinations while export containers are still being held back due to lack of space at the terminals.”

Until supply chain problems are sorted out with more drivers, trucks and inland storage space, Hackett said he does not expect to see a rapid decline in the backlogs being experienced.

Consumers are still spending and the supply chain is still working to keep up, added NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.

“Growth rates have slowed down from the off-the-charts numbers we saw last year, but volume is close to the highest we’ve ever seen. Retailers are also planning for potential additional disruptions this summer from West Coast port labor contract negotiations.”

In February, the NRF
sent a letter urging the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association to begin contract negotiations well before their July 1 contract expiration to avoid any delay in reaching a settlement and additional congestion that might result.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.16 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 3.6% from December and up 5.2%  year-over-year.

Ports have not yet reported February numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.07 million TEU, up 10.5% t year-over-year. March is forecast at 2.17 million TEU, down 4.5% year-over-year; April at 2.24 million TEU, up 4.2%; May at 2.26 million TEU, down 3.2%; June at 2.23 million TEU, up 4%, and July at 2.26 million TEU, up 3%.   

Many of those monthly totals will come close to the record of 2.33 million TEU that was set in May 2021, which was up more than 50%  year-over-year because of the shutdown of stores and overseas factories in the spring of 2020.

The first six months of 2022 are expected to total 13.1 million TEU, up 2.4% 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.

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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