NRF: Retail Imports Expected to Hit Monthly Records in First Half of 2021
Following a record year, imports at the largest U.S. retail container ports are expected to set new monthly records from now into the summer as the nation’s economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, a maritime strategy and trade logistics firm.
Each month from January 2021 through June 2021 is expected to set a record for imports. The first half of 2021 is forecast at 11.5 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) — or the approximate unit of measure of a container — up 22.1 percent from the same period in 2020, which experienced a major decline in imports due to the impact of COVID-19.
U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.11 million TEU in December. That was up 0.2 percent from November and up 22.3 percent year-over-year. That brought 2020 to a total of 22 million TEU, up 1.9 percent from 2019’s 21.6 million TEU and beating the previous record of 21.8 million TEU recorded in 2018.
Total Retail's Take: Despite the ups and downs in the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic — along with the congestion at the docks and the spread of the coronavirus among workers throughout the supply chain — the fact that cargo volumes handled by the ports remain high is a positive sign. In fact, months that are normally slow will also see record numbers this year. Take February, for example. Normally it's the slowest month of the year for imports because of the lull between the holiday season and spring and because factories in Asia close for the Chinese New Year. However, with many Asian factories remaining open during the holiday to meet demand, this February is forecast at 1.91 million TEU, up 26.3 percent year-over-year.
March is forecast at 1.93 million TEU, up 41 percent from March 2020, when factories in China failed to reopen because of the coronavirus. April is forecast at 1.82 million TEU, up 13.3 percent year-over-year; May at 1.9 million TEU, up 23.8 percent, and June also at 1.9 million TEU, up 18.2 percent.