Retail imports remain high, but could be higher without port congestion

“The ships will eventually be unloaded, but the pressure is on for everyone to work together to get the containers out as quickly as possible.”

NRF Vice-President Jonathan Gold

WASHINGTON – Imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports are expected to remain near record highs this month, but could experience a slight decline from unusually high figures last year as congestion slows the movement of goods. goods safeguarded, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today. by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Cargo is here for bigger payoffs at multiple ports, but congestion issues are impacting smooth operations,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president of supply chain and customs policy. . “The ships will eventually be unloaded, but the pressure is on for everyone to work together to get the containers out as quickly as possible. Retailers are doing everything in their power to ensure shelves are fully stocked for the holidays, from the arrival of goods early to chartering their own ships. Consumers should be able to find what they need, but it’s always safer to shop early than wait until the last minute.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse with the logistics supply chain, we got it wrong,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “From power outages and port closures in Asia to relief ships and truck driver shortages in the United States, there are few positive signs that the movement of consumer goods or the supply of inputs necessary for the industrial production is improving. ”

Hackett said COVID-19 infections in Asia have slowed the loading of ships bound for the United States, while shortages of equipment, labor and capacity of outgoing trucks and rails continued to create congestion in American ports. Nearly 75 ships were waiting at anchor to enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently, up from about 25 a month earlier, and the backups are also spreading to ports on the east coast.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker processed 2.27 million twenty-foot equivalent units in August, the latest month for which final figures are available. This was up 3.5% from July and 7.8% from a year earlier and tied March as the second busiest month since the NRF started tracking imports in 2002. May remains the busiest month on record at 2.33 million TEUs. A TEU is a 20 foot container or its equivalent.

Ports have yet to release September figures, but Global Port Tracker has projected the month at 2.25 million TEUs, which would represent a 6.7% year-over-year increase.

October is forecast at 2.21 million TEUs. This would be down 0.3% from the same period last year, when imports increased significantly as the economy reopened after the first wave of COVID-19 and retailers rushed to respond driven by pent-up consumer demand, but still the sixth busiest month on record as imports remain high. The year-over-year decline is believed to be the first since July 2020.

Congestion and disruption occurs in the midst of the “peak season” for shipping when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year, but many retailers have started importing holiday merchandise this summer to ensure that ‘sufficient stock will be available.

November is forecast at 2.16 million TEU, which would be up 2.9% year-on-year, and December is forecast at 2.1 million TEU, down 0.2%. January 2022 is forecast at 2.17 million TEU, up 5.7% from January 2021, and February 2022 is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 1.4% from year over year.

The first half of 2021 totaled 12.8 million TEUs, up 35.6% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 26 million TEUs, up 18.1% from 2020 and a new annual record exceeding last year’s 22 million TEU. Cargo imports in 2020 increased by 1.9% compared to 2019 despite the pandemic.

Global Port Tracker, produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the US 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. The report is free to NRF retail members and subscription information is available at or by calling (202) 783-7971. Subscription information for non-members is available at

About the NRF
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail association, is a passionate advocate for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help the retail business thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, DC, the NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, contributing $ 3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four jobs in the United States – 52 million American workers. For over a century, NRF has been the voice of every retailer and every retail profession, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact of retailing on local communities and global economies.

About Hackett Associates
Hackett Associates provides advisory, research and expert advisory services to the international shipping industry, government agencies and international institutions.

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