Imports at the nation’s major container ports are expected to fall below last year’s levels for the remainder of 2022, due to efforts by the Federal Reserve to cool demand and tamp down inflation by setting higher interest rates, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
The cool forecast comes as companies nationwide harbor lingering concern about ongoing labor negotiations between freight railroads and their union and between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association, which manages the west coast container ports. So far, both the railroad workers and the dockworkers remain on the job, but disruptions could strike quickly if talks falter, the report said.
“Consumers are still buying, but the cargo surge we saw during the past two years appears to be slowing down,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a release. “Cargo volumes are solidly above pre-pandemic levels, but the rate of growth has slowed and even slid into negative numbers compared with unusually high volumes last year. The key now is dealing with ongoing supply chain issues around the globe and with labor negotiations at West Coast ports and freight railroads. Smooth operations at the ports and on the rails is crucial as we enter the busy holiday season.”
By the numbers, U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.18 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in July, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 3.1% from June and down 0.4% from July 2021, marking only the third year-over-year decline in two years and the first since December 2021.
Ports have not yet reported August’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.17 million TEU, which would be down 4.3% year over year. The report provides data on the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.
“The number of vessels waiting to dock on the West Coast has been reduced to near-normal,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said in a release. “But with the switch of some cargo to the East Coast, congestion and pressure on the ports has shifted to the East Coast. The inland supply chain, particularly rail, continues to face difficulties that have resulted in the delay of containers leaving ports, causing terminal congestion that impacts the ability of carriers to discharge their cargo.”