NRF: Retail Imports Below Last Year’s Levels

Imports at major U.S. retail container ports are expected to remain significantly below last year’s levels into this fall as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Economic indicators show that the recession brought on by the pandemic may be easing, but retailers are being conservative with the amount of merchandise they import this year,” said Jonathan Gold, vp/supply chain and customs policy, NRF. “The outlook for imports is slowly improving, but these are still some of the lowest numbers we’ve seen in years.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.53 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in May, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.8% from April and down 17.2% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

June was estimated at 1.69 million TEU, down 5.8% year-over-year. July is forecast at the same 1.69 million TEU, down 14.1% from last year; August at 1.69 million TEU again, down 13.3%; September at 1.64 million TEU, down 12.3%; October at 1.7 million TEU, down 9.9%, and November at 1.68 million TEU, down 0.6%.

With imports usually trailing off in November and December after the bulk of holiday merchandise has arrived, the 1.7 million TEU figure for October is likely to be the busiest month of the traditional July-to-October “peak season” for shipping. If so, it would be the lowest peak since 1.61 million in September 2014.

The first half of 2020 is forecast to total 9.5 million TEU, down 9.3% from the same period last year but better than the 10% decline expected last month. Before the extent of the pandemic was known, the first half of the year was forecast at 10.47 million TEU.