Statistics show that the pandemic-driven shipping surge has come to an end, according to figures released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
In a measure of ocean freight, monthly import cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports in November fell below the 2 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) mark and should remain there through most of this spring, according to the Global Port Tracker report released today by NRF and Hackett Associates.
And the nation’s airports saw a similar trend, as IATA found softening demand for global air cargo markets in November 2022, the latest numbers available. Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), fell 13.7% compared to November 2021, and fell 14.2% for international operations.
The news follows a series of other recent indicators that show economics activity in the logistics sector is starting to slow, such as a slight uptick in transportation sector unemployment, an easing of chronic port congestion problems, and sinking demand for trucking freight capacity.
Taken together, those movements could complement the Federal Reserve Bank’s strategy of raising interest rates to cool off the economy and fight inflation, although fiscal policy changes take several months to trigger an effect, the NRF said recently.
IATA reached a similar conclusion. “Air cargo performance softened in November, the traditional peak season. Resilience in the face of economic uncertainties is demonstrated with demand being relatively stable on a month-to-month basis. But market signals are mixed,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said in a release. “November presented several indicators with upside potential: oil prices stabilized, inflation slowed, and there was a slight expansion in goods traded globally. But shrinking export orders globally and China’s rising COVID cases are cause for careful monitoring.”
The changes come after a wild ride for cargo facilities. Back in March 2020, imports plummeted to a four-year low of 1.37 million TEU as covid prompted the temporary shutdown of much of the nation’s economy, NRF said. But cargo soared after the shutdowns ended and pent-up consumer demand was unleashed that summer, topping 2 million TEU by that August and staying there all but one month until this winter.
“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,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Nonetheless, as inflation eases and consumer spending returns, we project that growth will slowly return going into the second half of the year.”
NRF and Hackett’s 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.