NRF: Retail import volume lows expected for the year
The Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates indicates U.S. ports handled 1.62 million containers in March, up 5% from February lows but 30.6% less than a year ago.
Ports have not yet reported April results, but Global Port Tracker projects the month at 1.73 million containers, down 23.4% year over year. May is forecast at 1.83 million containers, down 23.5% from last year’s 2.4 million, the container record for a single month. The forecast for June is down 15.9% from the prior-year period. Global Port Tracker recently trimmed its forecast for the first half of 2023, predicting import volume of 10.4 million containers, down 22.8% from the same period in 2022.
Third-quarter import cargo volume is expected to total 6 million containers, down 7.2% from the same time last year. July cargo volume is projected to fall 9% with August container volume decreasing 9.9% and down 3.4% in September compared to the prior-year periods.
Global Port Tracker has not yet forecast the full year, but the first nine months of 2023 would total 16.5 million containers, down 17.8% from year ago. Hackett said the large annual declines are somewhat skewed by historically high volumes last year coming out of the pandemic. Imports for 2022 totaled 25.5 million containers, down 1.2% from the record set in 2021 of 25.8 million containers.
“Consumers are still spending and retail sales are expected to increase this year, but we’re not seeing the explosive demand we saw the past two years,” said Jonathon Gold, vice president for supply chain at NRF. “Congestion at the ports has largely gone away as import levels have fallen, but other supply chain challenges remain ranging from trucker shortages to getting empty containers back to terminals.”
He said progress on West Coast port labor negotiation are positive but the situation is being monitored until a new labor agreement is ratified by each side.
With economic uncertainty continuing, the impact on trade is clear, according to Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. He said the year-over-year import volumes have been on the decline at most ports since late 2022 and declining exports out of China highlight the slowdown in demand for consumer goods.
“Our forecast now predicts imports will remain below recent levels until inflation rates and inventory surpluses are reduced,” Hackett said.