National Retail Federation (NRF) vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold noted: “We’re experiencing the strongest surge in volume we’ve seen in two years, and that’s a good sign for what retailers expect in sales.”

The latest Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates revealed that US ports handled 2.08m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in May, a 7.5% year-over-year growth.

This figure represents the highest volume since August 2022, when US ports processed 2.26m TEUs aligning with Global Port Trackers’ previous forecast in June.

Gold assured consumers that retailers would be well-stocked for the upcoming back-to-school and holiday seasons, despite ongoing supply chain challenges.

However, Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, warned of increasing risks to global trade growth. He said the latest numbers come as attacks on shipping in the Red Sea earlier this year had an impact “beyond earlier expectations” because of a lack of sufficient capacity to make up for longer voyages to avoid the region.

He cited expanding political support for higher tariffs on imported goods, and concerns over the lack of a new contract with East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers as factors contributing to higher shipping costs and consumer prices.

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The shift of some cargo to West Coast ports due to labour concerns on the East Coast and Gulf Coast is also noted as a contributing factor to the changing dynamics of US port operations.

The first half of 2024 is expected to total 12.04m TEUs, a 14.4% increase from the same period last year. This growth comes after a 12.8% decline in imports during 2023, which totalled 22.3m TEUs.

The report projects continued growth in the coming months:

  • June: 2.1m TEUs (up 14.5% year-over-year)
  • July: 2.21m TEUs (up 15.5%)
  • August: 2.22m TEUs (up 13.5%)
  • September: 2.1m TEUs (up 3.5%)
  • October: 2.05m TEUs (down 0.5%)
  • November: 1.96m TEUs (up 3.5%)