The pandemic-driven shipping surge is ending. As 2023 starts, the monthly import cargo volume has fallen to the 2 million TEU mark at container ports. The Global Port Tracker report predicts the number will remain low throughout spring.
Jonathan Gold, the NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, stated, “Ports have been stretched to their limits and beyond but are getting a break as consumer demand moderates amid continued inflation and high-interest rates. Consumers are still spending, and volumes remain high, but we’re not seeing the congestion at the docks and ships waiting to unload that were widespread this time a year ago. It’s good to escape some of the pressure, but it’s important to use this time to address supply chain challenges that still need to be resolved like finalizing the West Coast port labor contract.”
Imports have gone down to a four-year low and are currently 1.37 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) which is the equivalent of a 20-foot container.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shutdown of the economy in the United States. When the shutdown ended, cargo demand sourced and quickly topped 2 million TEU.
Ben Hackett, the Hacket Associates founder stated, “After nearly three years of COVID-19’s impact on global trade and consumer demand, import patterns appear to be returning to what was normal prior to 2020. Nonetheless, as inflation eases and consumer spending returns, we project that growth will slowly return going into the second half of the year.”
In November of 2022, the Global Port Tracker showed that U.S. ports managed 1.78 million TEU which was a dip of 11.3% from October and a nosedive of 15.8% compared to November 2021.
Currently, the ports have not released the December numbers, but the Global Tracker predicts it will be 1.88 million TEU which is down 10.1% compared to the previous year. In the first half of 2022, records were broken, but there were huge drops in the second half of the year.
The Forecast for the First Half of 2023
The forecast for January 2023 is 1.91 million TEU which is down 11.5% compared to the previous year. Forecasts show March 2023 at 1.75 million TEU which is a reduction of 25.5% compared to 2022. April is forecast to be at 1.94 billion which is 14.5% less and May is forecast to be 2 million TEU which is a reduction of 16.2% over the last year.