March imports at US container ports hit five-year low
Imports at major U.S. retail container ports dropped to their lowest level in five years in March, data from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates shows.
Imports are projected to remain significantly below normal levels through early summer as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“Even as factories in China have begun to get back to work, we are seeing far fewer imports coming into the United States than previously expected,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said.
“Many stores are closed, and consumer demand has been impacted with millions of Americans out of work. However, there are still many essential items that are badly needed and because of store closures cargo may sit longer than usual and cause other supply chain impacts.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is unraveling the economy nationally and globally as most of the world moves toward a lockdown that entails the closure of significant portions of both the service and manufacturing industries,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said.
“The largest drop is forecast for the first half of this year but with uncertainty about the length of the lockdown and extent of the pandemic, the second half may not be in better shape.”
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.51 million TEU in February, down 17 percent from January and 6.8 percent year-over-year.
While actual numbers for March are not yet available, estimates show that imports plunged to 1.27 million TEU, down 21.3 percent year-over-year.
This is the lowest level seen since 1.21 million TEU in February 2015 during a labor dispute that caused slowdowns at West Coast ports that winter.
Before the coronavirus began to have an effect on imports, February through May had been forecast at a total of 6.9 million TEU but is now expected to total 5.7 million TEU, a drop of 17.3 percent.
Specifically, April is forecast at 1.44 million TEU, down 17.6 percent, May at 1.48 million TEU, down 20.1 percent, and June at 1.41 million TEU, down 21.4 percent year-over-year .
The first half of 2020 is forecast to total 8.93 million TEU, down 15.1 percent from the same period last year.
Before the extent of the pandemic was known, the first half of the year was forecast at 10.47 million TEU.