WASHINGTON – Imports at the nation’s largest retail container ports are expected to grow dramatically during the first half of 2021 as increased vaccination and continued in-store safety measures enable additional shopping options, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
“NRF is forecasting what could turn out to be record retail sales growth in 2021, and retailers are importing huge amounts of merchandise to meet the demand,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The supply chain slowdown we usually see after the holiday season never really happened this winter, and imports are already starting to grow again. Consumers haven’t let the pandemic stop them from shopping, and retailers are making sure their customers can find what they want and find it safely.”
“As COVID-19 ravaged the economy in 2020, it seemed as if any hope of recovery was distant,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Then came the rollout of vaccines that appear to be highly effective and are bringing strong signs of a quick recovery. The successful distribution of vaccines will help ensure that the economic recovery will likely be strong and sustainable.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.06 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in January, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 2.3 percent from December as the busy holiday season came to an end. But with a 13 percent year-over-year increase, it was the busiest January since NRF began tracking imports in 2002 and the first time the month has ever topped the 2 million TEU mark. A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
While import numbers for both February and March are forecast to be significantly higher than normal, year-over-year comparisons are difficult because of the pandemic. February is traditionally the slowest month of the year as Asian factories close for Chinese New Year, but last year most remained closed into March because of the coronavirus, reducing numbers even further. This year, however, some remained open during the holiday in order to fill a surge in orders, and ships arriving at U.S. ports faced a backlog to unload. February results aren’t available yet, but the month was projected at 1.88 million TEU, up 24.4 percent over last year, while March is forecast at 1.98 million TEU, up 44.1 percent.
April is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, up 18.2 percent year-over-year; May at 1.92 million TEU, up 25.2 percent; June also at 1.92 million TEU, up 19.6 percent, and July at 2.02 million TEU, up 5.3 percent.
The first half of 2021 is forecast at 11.7 million TEU, up 23.3 percent from the same period in 2020, which experienced a major decline in imports due to COVID-19. Imports saw a total of 22 million TEU in 2020, up 1.9 percent from 2019’s 21.6 million TEU and beating the previous record of 21.8 million TEU recorded in 2018.
Source: Global Port Tracker, NRF