Retail imports to see lowest annual total in four years

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Retail imports to see lowest annual total in four years

By Marianne Wilson - 08/10/2020
Forklift

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on retail imports as retailers cut back on orders amid worries of being overstocked.

Imports at major U.S. retail container ports during 2020 are expected to see their lowest total in four years, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released Monday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“The economy is recovering but retailers are being careful not to import more than they can sell,” said NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Shelves will be stocked, but this is not the year to be left with warehouses full of unsold merchandise. The more Congress does to put spending money in consumers’ pockets and provide businesses with liquidity, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million twenty-foot equivalent units in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.9% from May but down 10.5% year-over-year. (A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.)

July was estimated at 1.76 million TEU, down 10.2% year-over-year. August is forecast at 1.81 million TEU, down 7.3%; September at 1.69 million TEU, down 9.5%; October also at 1.69 million TEU, down 10.4%; November at 1.59 million TEU, down 5.8%, and December at 1.56 million TEU, down 9.6%.

Those numbers would bring 2020 to a total of 19.6 million TEU, a drop of 9.4% from last year and the lowest annual total since 19.1 million TEU in 2016. The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.1% from last year.

August is expected to be the busiest month of the July-October “peak season” when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays. But with retailers ordering less merchandise, the month’s total would be the lowest peak for the season since 1.73 million TEU in 2016 and falls far short of the 1.96 million TEU peak in 2019. Peak season usually includes the busiest month of the entire year, but this year that was likely January’s 1.82 million TEU.

“This year, peak season seems to have been thrown off by the coronavirus pandemic along with just about everything else we consider normal,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “We’ve probably already had our busiest month. And with the pandemic taking a hit on the economy ever since then, peak season is likely to be a disappointment by comparison.”

Global Port Tracker 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.