Peak season to come in August barring any labor disruptions, NRF says

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U.S. containerized imports are expected to reach a peak in August this year, but will still be down 18% year over year from August 2022, according to the National Retail Federation.

The NRF, which tracks monthly import figures at leading U.S. ports through the Global Port Tracker produced by Hackett Associates, meanwhile said U.S. ports handled 1.93 million twenty-foot equivalent units (teu) in May.

That was an 8.5% improvement from April this year, but it still represents a 19.3% decrease year over year (yoy).

May imports up

While the yoy downward trend does continue at the top ten ports tracked by Cargomatic, the NRF is correct to note the improvement in throughput from April to May. In fact, at the Port of Los Angeles, the upward trend is actually three months long.

In May POLA cargo volume hit 779,140 teu, representing a 19% drop from May 2022, but the number nonetheless marks the third consecutive month of improved throughput for the facility and, according to the port, a 60% increase since February.

Looking strictly at import figures, although the Port of Los Angeles saw a massive drop-off of nearly 50% from January to February, from February to March throughput rose by 22.05% and another 6.90% from March to April before rising another 16% from April to May.

Long Beach numbers also improving

Across San Pedro Bay, the Port of Long Beach announced May as its strongest month so far in 2023, saying it raises “mid-year hopes of a trend of increasing volume.”

Although its throughput numbers are clearly down in comparison with 2022, the Port of Long Beach – like Los Angeles – also has seen month-on-month growth in imports this year.

In fact, Long Beach has not had any sudden fall in imports this year, seeing rises every month since January: 3.3% from January to February, 8.66% from February to March, 10.94% from March to April and 13.33% from April to May—a modest but very clear upward movement in imports.

USEC ports see modest gains

East Coast ports also are seeing upticks in imports, though the trend is not as pronounced, with New York New Jersey up 10.84% from March to April and 8.67% during April to May while Virginia rose 11.47% in March to April and 7.92% in April to May.

Houston is the nation’s only top ten port not showing this trend. To the contrary, it is showing negative month-on-month growth: -5.25% in January to February; -6.00% in February to March; -4.84% from March to April; and -0.70% from April to May.

Looking ahead, the NRF’s Global Port Tracker forecasts July will be down 11% year over year, August down 10.1% year over year, September down 3.4%; and October down 1.8%.

But the NRF does hold out hope for November, predicting it will see a 5.9% increase, and calling it “the first year-over-year increase since June 2022.

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