Retail imports hit all-time highs in 2021, also leading to port congestion

Dive brief:

  • US ports will have handled 4 million more TEUs by the end of 2021 than in 2020, as retail imports increased despite supply chain delays, according to data from Hackett’s Global Port Tracker Associates, who is prepared for the National Retail Foundation.
  • The forecast shows how retail imports climbed above 2020 levels as early as January 2021 and did not slow down as congestion increased. In May 2021, for example, US ports handled 2.33 million TEUs, an increase of 52% year-on-year and 5% more than in October 2020, the highest of the previous year.
  • The report estimates that U.S. imports in the fourth quarter of 2021 will stabilize compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, as congestion accumulated over the months delays the rapid unloading of containers at U.S. ports.

Retail imports surged in 2021

Historical retail import data and forecast for 13 US ports, in TEUs

Dive overview:

Import figures for 2021 would have been higher without port congestion, according to the NRF.

“Cargo is not counted until it is disembarked from ships, and waiting times are long enough that cargo from ships arriving towards the end of each month can slip into the next month.” , J. Craig Shearman, Vice President of the Government. relations and public affairs, said in an email. “This will likely continue until the congestion situation improves.”

Representatives of the Port of Los Angeles say the delays are due to a significant increase in imports, not a lack of productivity. Executive Director Gene Seroka told CNN said on Tuesday that vessel capacity utilization has increased by 30% in the trans-Pacific lanes and painted a picture of what this means for ports.

“It’s like taking ten lanes of highway traffic and shifting them into five when the cargo gets here at the port,” Seroka said. “We are still more productive than ever. The productivity of ships and vessels is up 50% year over year. “

The problem, Seroka said, is that the US supply chain is struggling to move this cargo inland and importers are “relying on the cargo longer than ever.”

According to the Global Port Tracker report, port programs designed to move cargo inland have seen low demand in part due to labor and surface transportation issues.

Labor and surface transportation issues contribute to low demand for P

“Some US port terminals are starting to open 24-hour doors for container pickup, but demand is limited as importers suffer from a shortage of drivers and warehouse workers combined with non-operating hours. lined up in warehouses, ”founder of Hackett Associates. Ben Hackett wrote in the report.

Increased imports and the resulting congestion are also causing problems up the supply chain as cargo owners struggle to secure the ability of vessels to ship their cargo to the United States.

“It is estimated that between 10 and 15% of the world’s container ship capacity floats at anchor,” Hackett wrote. And although large importers got around the problem by chartering vessels, Hackett wrote that the actions would “add more congestion to the process.”

The congestion, in addition to other risks such as power outages in China and supply constraints, allowed Hackett to estimate that “the current problems will continue until 2022”.

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