The Global Port Tracker report, which is released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates revealed October should turn out to be the peak of the holiday shipping season in 2023.

The peak historically came in October but has occurred in August or sooner for seven of the past 10 years after a series of port labour disputes prompted retailers to bring merchandise into the country early to avoid potential disruptions near the holidays. 2020 was the most recent year that shipping peaked in October.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett explained the US economy appears to be on a sustainable growth path as consumer demand remains buoyant, highlighting the solid Black Friday weekend sales, strong corporate profits and continued growth of gross domestic product as key indicators of this trend.

He noted: “It would be natural to assume that any thought of a recession is behind us, but a significant number of economists and politicians remain skeptical. As always, time will tell.”

Vice president for supply chain customs policy at National Retail Federation (NRF), Jonathan Gold, added NRF expects “record-setting” holiday sales this year and retailers are well-stocked to meet consumer demand.

He continued: “We originally thought peak season would come in August but imports kept growing in September and again in October. Whether it was merchandise for retailers or cargo for other businesses, that’s a good sign for the economy and for the holiday shopping season.”

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Latest data by Global Port Tracker

  • US ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled a “higher-than-expected” 2.05m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in October, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 1.3% from September and up 2.5% from October 2022 for the first year-over-year increase since June 2022. By topping September’s 2.03m TEU, October should turn out to be the peak of the holiday shipping season.
  • With 1.96m TEU, August had originally been expected to be the peak month.
  • Global Port Tracker has projected November numbers to be at 1.96m TEU, up 10.5% year over year, however, the ports have not yet reported numbers for the month.
  • December is forecast at 1.93m TEU, up 11.5% year over year. Those numbers would bring 2023 to 22.4m TEU, down 12.4% from last year.
  • Imports during 2022 totalled 25.5 million TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEU set in 2021.
  • January is forecast at 1.93m TEU, up 6.6% year over year.
  • February (historically the slowest month because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia) is forecast at 1.77m TEU, up 14.5% year over year.
  • March is forecast at 1.75m TEU, up 7.7% year over year, and April at 1.8m TEU, up 1%.

The report pointed out year-over-year volume growth each month is expected to continue in 2024.

The NRF has also predicted 2023 holiday sales will increase between 3% and 4% over last year, in line with pre-pandemic growth rates, and will hit a record-setting total of between $957.3bn and $966.6bn.

In November, the Global Tracker report explained that inbound cargo volume at major container ports in the US was expected to decelerate as the holiday season approached.