Ocean shipments rose in the first quarter as the economy continued to rebound from the pandemic, but dwell times rose as well as ports struggled to keep pace with growing volumes, according to data from supply chain visibility platform FourKites, released this week.
FourKites analyzed its ocean data across North America, Europe, and China and found that shipment volumes rose 5% sequentially in the first quarter following a volatile 2020 market. In North America, imports rose 45% in the first quarter, following declines in the second and third quarters of 2020. Export volumes rebounded in the first quarter as well, surging 114% at the four busiest ports across the region—Charleston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New York— according to FourKites analyst Glenn Koepke.
“North American exports and imports have been more volatile, as the country struggled to contain the worsening [Covid-19] crisis at the end of 2020 and felt the impact of the container shortage,” Koepke wrote in a report released Monday.
Koepke said the unprecedented container shortage and the lingering effects of the Suez Canal blockage earlier this year are contributing to increased dwell times and late shipments nationwide. The FourKites first-quarter data showed that dwell times increased considerably in Los Angeles, Charleston, and New York—300%, 100%, and 67%, respectively— and were stagnant in Long Beach compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
“Importers continue to factor the dwell on the West Coast ports into transit time, production planning, and customer expectation management,” Koepke added.
The outlook calls for more of the same in the months ahead. U.S. ports have reported handling record cargo volumes in April, a trend that continued this week with the Port of Virginia posting a 38% increase in TEU volume (twenty-foot equivalent unit) during the month. Port officials cited an expected surge in volume due to the Suez Canal blockage, and also noted that activity is expected to keep pace through the second quarter.
“The strong volumes will be ongoing in May and June, and we are continuing to add new equipment to the operation to meet demand,” according to Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority.