Import totals hit record highs in March as retailers brace for price hikes

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that March’s Global Port Tracker totals set a new record, but April’s totals – only estimated at this time – may have already broken it.

Prepared by Hackett Associates, the latest Global Port Tracker revealed that US ports covered in the report handled 2.34 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in March, the most recent month for which final figures are available. March totals were up 10.8% from the previous month and 3.2% year-on-year, breaking the previous all-time high of 2.33 million TEUs since May 2021. A TEU equivalent to a 20 foot container or its equivalent.

“Retailers are importing record amounts of goods to meet consumer demand, but they also have an incentive to stock up before inflation drives up costs,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president of supply chain and customs policy. “Whether it’s transportation costs or the wholesale price of goods, the money retailers save is money that can be used to keep prices low for their customers in times of inflation.”

And although final figures are not yet known for April, Global Port Tracker forecasts 2.27 million TEUs for the month, up 5.7% from the previous year. May is forecast at 2.3 million TEUs, which would reduce the month by 1.4% compared to last year while giving it a place as the third highest level in the history of the report. , which began in 2002.

“Consumer spending is growing faster than income growth, perhaps shoppers are buying ahead of expected price increases,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Importers are doing much the same as they continue to replenish their stocks. This will protect them against potential increased freight costs, further supply chain delays and complications in upcoming labor negotiations at US West Coast ports.

According to Gold, labor negotiations at West Coast ports are expected to begin this week. The NRF encourages both parties to “stay at the table and not engage in disruption if a new contract is not concluded by the time the current agreement expires.” The port’s current contract is due to expire in early July.

Looking at the next month’s totals, Global Port Tracker predicts a June of 2.29 million TEUs, up 6.6% from last year; July to 2.31 million TEUs, up 5.3%; August at 2.29 million TEUs, up 0.9%, and September at 2.15 million TEUs, up 0.3%.

The first six months of 2022 are expected to total 13.5 million TEUs, up 5.1% year-on-year. Imports for the whole of 2021 totaled 25.8 million TEUs, an increase of 17.4% from the previous 2020 annual record of 22 million TEUs.

The Global Port Tracker reports annual shipping volumes from more than 10 US ports and uses past averages to make its forecasts. The report is compiled by Hackett Associates, a consulting and research services firm that works with the international shipping industry, government agencies and others.

Check out Global Port Tracker’s first 2022 results here.