U.S. container import volumes increased sharply this summer to levels that were not expected even a month ago and may have hit a new record, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation or NRF and maritime consultancy Hackett Associates.
The surge in imports comes as the U.S. economy continues to reopen after coronavirus-induced lockdowns and retailers stock up merchandise ahead of the crucial holiday season.
According to the report, its projected import figures for the July-October ‘peak season’ could make this year the third-busiest peak season on record. Imports to the U.S. usually trail off in November and December after the bulk of holiday merchandise has arrived in October.
The forecast numbers call for U.S. container import volumes of 7.58 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units or TEU from July to October 2020, following the record volumes of 7.7 million TEU in 2018 and 7.66 million TEU last year.
The U.S. ports surveyed in the report handled 1.92 million or TEU in July, the latest month for which figures are available, the report said.
While the July number is a 19.3 percent increase from June, it also marks a 2.3 percent decrease year-over-year. In August, the report had projected July import volumes to fall 10.2 percent year-over-year.
“Some of these imports are helping replenish inventories that started to run low after consumers unleashed pent-up demand when stores reopened. But this is the clearest sign yet that we could be in for a much happier holiday season than many had thought,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold.
For August, container import volumes are now estimated to be 2.06 million TEU, an increase of 6 percent year-over-year.
While actual August numbers will not be known until next month, the figure is estimated to rise to an all-time high that will beat the previous record of 2.04 million TEU set in October 2018.
For the first half of 2020, import volumes totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.6 percent from last year.
Nevertheless, imports during 2020 are projected to be the lowest in four years. Total import volumes for 2020 are now anticipated to decrease 6.7 percent from last year to 20.1 million TEU. This would be the lowest annual total since 19.1 million TEU in 2016.
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