Import Levels Forecast To Grow In Months Ahead

Imports, National Retail Federation

As the economy continues to rebound from its malaise as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, so too do levels of imports, according to the latest report from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Under the current forecast, import volume is expected to remain at or above the 2 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) mark for 11 out of 13 months by this August. Before 2020, monthly imports had reached 2 million TEU only once, in October 2018.

“We’ve never seen imports at this high a level for such an extended period of time,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy for the NRF. “Between federal stimulus checks and money saved by staying home for the better part of a year, consumers have money in their pockets and they’re spending it with retailers as fast as retailers can stock their shelves.”

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While imports are forecast to rise in the months ahead, getting products into the U.S. from Asia, Europe and elsewhere is not without its challenges. 

The global supply chain continues to be strained by multiple disruptions, including the recent blockage of the Suez Canal, but ports are beginning to catch up.

“Congestion at U.S. ports is abating as container carriers and terminals adjust to the new normal,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which produces the Global Tracker Report for the NRF. “We saw the busiest February on record as the ports worked to clear the backlog, and the number of ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay waiting to dock at Los Angeles and Long Beach is dropping.”

According to Hackett, as of April 7, only 17 ships were reported waiting off Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation’s busiest port complex – in recent days, compared with about 30 ships the month prior.

Year-over-year import levels are expected to increase 23.4% in April, 30.6% in May, 24.9% in June and 6.5% in July. 

The continued growth of imports is good news for retailers who are seeing shortages of some products, including kitchenware. The buildup through the spring and early summer will also allow stores to prepare for the back-to-school selling season.