The Cargo Just Keeps on Surging at Retail Container Ports
Jonathan Gold, the vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation (NRF), believes that most consumers are in good financial health and aren’t hesitating to spend. How does he know? Because the cargo surge that began last fall at retail container ports doesn’t show any sign of stopping.
“More spending translates into more merchandise arriving at our ports as retailers continue to meet increasing demand,” Gold noted.
The cargo surge has been so strong that imports at retail container ports hit a new record this spring, and volume during the first half of 2021 is expected to be a third higher than last year as the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, the NRF stated in its monthly Global Port Tracker it conducts with the consulting firm Hackett Associates.
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.27 million TEU in March, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 21.2% from February and set a new record for the number of containers seen during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. The previous record was 2.21 million TEU set last October. A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
March volume was up a record 64.9% year over year but the growth rate was artificially high because many Asian factories had shut down because of the pandemic at that point last year and most U.S. stores were being ordered to close.
The first half of 2021 is forecast to be up 33.9% from the same period in 2020. As with March, the growth is skewed because of the sharp decline in imports during the first half of last year. But the six-month total of 12.7 million TEU would put 2021 on track to beat 2020’s full-year total of 22 million TEU, which was up 1.9% over 2019 despite the pandemic.
April numbers are not yet available, but the month was projected at 2.17 million TEU, up 34.5% year over year. May is forecast at 2.22 million TEU, up 44.9%.
The ongoing high cargo volume reflects the recovering U.S. economy, according to NRF. Gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter and some economists are predicting 13% in the second quarter. “Growth that fast is a clear indication that U.S. economic output has almost recovered to its level before the pandemic struck,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Retail sales numbers show consumers are spending a large portion of their stimulus checks as well as savings that accumulated while staying home rather than going out and income from new jobs. This is turning out to be a year of super growth that will act as the driver of the global economy.”