US import growth has ‘run out of steam’

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The dizzying growth in US imports that was a hallmark of the pandemic era has come to an end.

A new Global Ports Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation shows imports at the country’s major container ports are set to fall to their lowest level in nearly two years by the end of 2022, even as sales retail continue to grow.

US ports covered by the tracker handled 2.26 million TEUs in August, the latest month for which final figures are available. That was up 3.5% from July, but down 0.4% from August 2021.

Projected numbers for the rest of the year are not so rosy. September imports are expected to be 3% lower than a year ago, followed by a 9.4% year-on-year decline in October, a 4.9% decline in November and a decline of 6.1% in December.

“US import volume growth has stalled, particularly for cargo from Asia,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which produces the Global Ports Tracker for the NRF.

It looks like retailers are well stocked thanks to retailers’ pre-planning for this upcoming holiday shopping season, which the NRF says started early this year. Imports in the first half totaled 13.5 million TEUs, a stunning 5.5% increase from the record pace of 2021. However, forecasts for the rest of the year would take the second half to 12.5 million TEUs, down 4% year-on-year over the period. Still, 2022 is expected to total 26 million TEUs, which would be up 0.7% from last year’s annual record of 25.8 million TEUs.

“The holiday season has already started for some shoppers and, thanks to advance planning, retailers have plenty of merchandise on hand to meet demand,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for the chain. procurement and customs policy. “Many retailers imported goods earlier this year to combat rising inflation and ongoing supply chain disruption issues. Despite declining volumes, retailers still face challenges throughout the supply chain, including U.S. ports and intermodal yards. »

While imports are expected to rebound briefly in January 2023, which is forecast at 2.06 million TEUs, they would still be down 4.9% from January 2022. February is forecast at 1.8 million TEUs , down 15% from a year ago as the month rolls around. to its usual slowdown due to Lunar New Year factory shutdowns each year in Asia. The numbers remained high despite last year’s holidays due to stranded shipments that occupied congested ports during the month.

“Recent reductions in carrier shipping capacity reflect lower demand for merchandise from well-stocked retailers, even as consumers continue to spend,” Ben Hackett said. “Meanwhile, the closure of factories during the October Golden Week holidays in China as well as the continuation of the Chinese government’s “Zero Covid” policy have impacted production, also reducing demand for capacity. shipping this side of the Pacific.”

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