The Global Port Tracker from NRF and Hackett Associates notes that with the US economy slowing and consumers worried by rising interest rates and still-high inflation, retailers are importing less merchandise.

“February is traditionally a slow month, but these are the lowest numbers we’ve seen in almost three years,” said NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. “Retailers are being cautious as they wait to see how the economy responds to efforts to bring inflation under control.”

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, added: “In some ways, 2023 is reminiscent of 2020, when the world’s economies shut down because of the pandemic and no one had a clue where we were headed. Cargo volumes are down, and the economy is in a contradiction of rising employment and wages that promise prosperity at the same time high inflation and rising interest rates threaten a recession. The economy is far from shut down, but the degree of uncertainty is very similar.”

US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.73m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in December, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 2.6% from November and down 17.1% from December 2021. That brought 2022 – which broke multiple monthly records in the first half of the year but saw significant drops in the second half – to an annual total of 25.5m TEU, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8m TEU set in 2021.

Ports have not yet reported January numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.78m TEU, down 17.6% year over year. February is forecast at 1.57m TEU, down 25.6% from the same month last year for the slowest month since 1.53m TEU in May 2020, when many factories in Asia and most US stores were closed by the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, only the 1.51m TEU recorded in February 2020 and 1.37m TEU in March 2020 have been lower.

March is forecast at 1.76m TEU, down 24.8% year over year, April at 1.87m TEU, down 17.3%, and May at 1.92m TEU, down 19.9%. June is forecast at 2m TEU, the first time imports are expected to be that high since October but down 11.3% from last June. Those numbers would bring the first half of 2023 to 10.9m TEU, down 19.4% from the first half of 2022.

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