Imports at major US retail container ports during 2020 are expected to see their lowest total in four years as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the US economy continues.
“The economy is recovering but retailers are being careful not to import more than they can sell,” explains Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF). “Shelves will be stocked, but this is not the year to be left with warehouses full of unsold merchandise. The more Congress does to put spending money in consumers’ pockets and provide businesses with liquidity, the sooner we can get back to normal.”
The latest Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates shows US ports handled 1.61m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.9% from May but down 10.5% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.
July was estimated at 1.76m TEU, down 10.2% year-over-year. August is forecast at 1.81m TEU, down 7.3%, while September is at 1.69m TEU, representing a fall of 9.5%.
Looking further ahead, October is also expected at 1.69m TEU, down 10.4%; November at 1.59m TEU, down 5.8%, and December at 1.56m TEU, down 9.6%.
Those numbers would bring 2020 to a total of 19.6m TEU, a drop of 9.4% from last year and the lowest annual total since 19.1m TEU in 2016. The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5m TEU, down 10.1% on last year.
August is expected to be the busiest month of the July-October peak season when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays. But with retailers ordering less merchandise, the month’s total would be the lowest peak for the season since 1.73mn TEU in 2016 and falls far short of the 1.96m TEU peak in 2019. Peak season usually includes the busiest month of the entire year, but this year that was likely January’s 1.82m TEU.
“This year, peak season seems to have been thrown off by the coronavirus pandemic along with just about everything else we consider normal,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett adds. “We’ve probably already had our busiest month. And with the pandemic taking a hit on the economy ever since then, peak season is likely to be a disappointment by comparison.”