NFR: Retail Imports Improve
July 9, 2020
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 today by the National Retail Federation and
“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,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain
and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The outlook for imports is
slowly improving, but these are still some of the lowest numbers we’ve
seen in years.”
“U.S. imports are performing like a yo-yo, up one month and down the
next with no apparent cause that can realistically point to either a
crashing or booming economy,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett
said. “We’re starting to go out to eat and buy clothing again, but how
sustainable is that? The danger is that the rising number of virus
infections is leading to renewed restrictions, which may cause demand to
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 percent from
April and down 17.2 percent 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 percent year-over-year.
July is forecast at the same 1.69 million TEU, down 14.1 percent from
last year; August at 1.69 million TEU again, down 13.3 percent;
September at 1.64 million TEU, down 12.3 percent; October at 1.7 million
TEU, down 9.9 percent, and November at 1.68 million TEU, down 0.6
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 outlook is about the same as a month ago, with some months higher
and some lower. Imports for the six-month period from May through
October are expected to total 9.94 million TEU, a 0.7 percent
improvement from the amount forecast a month ago.
The first half of 2020 is forecast to total 9.5 million TEU, down 9.3
percent from the same period last year but better than the 10 percent
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.
Imports during 2019 totaled 21.6 million TEU, a 0.8 percent decrease
from 2018 amid the trade war with China but still the second-highest
year on record.