2020 imports may reach record levels despite economic and supply chain challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, released today.
If December projections hold, 2020 may see a 1.5% increase in imports and break the previous record set in 2018, the groups said.
U.S. ports handled 2.11 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in November, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up nearly 25% year-over-year, but down nearly 5% from October’s 2.21 million TEU, which set the record for the largest number of containers handled during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, the groups said.
December was projected at 2.02 million TEU, down more than 17% year-over-year but still one of only six times in nearly 20 years that the monthly total has hit the 2 million TEU mark. If the December number holds up once actual data is available, 2020 will have ended with a total of 21.9 million TEU, up 1.5% from last year and breaking the previous annual record of 21.8 million TEU set in 2018, the groups said.
“Nobody would have thought last spring that 2020 would be a record year for imports, but it was clearly an unpredictable year,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement. “Consumers and retailers once again proved their resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges. Thanks in part to government stimulus, retail sales saw strong growth during 2020 even with the pandemic, and import numbers show retailers expect the economic recovery will continue during 2021.”
January imports are forecast at 1.96 million TEU, which would be up nearly 8% from a year ago and the busiest January on record; February at 1.6 million TEU, up 6% percent year-over-year, and March at 1.64 million TEU, up 19% from March 2020, when factories in China failed to reopen after the Lunar New Year holiday because of the coronavirus.
Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami, and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.