Container traffic at the nation’s biggest ports remains strong driven by continued consumer demand for new products.
The monthly Global Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates revealed that U.S. ports in the report handled 2.33 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in May, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 8.6% from April and up 52.2% from a year earlier.
The number set a new record for the most containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002, topping the previous record of 2.27 million TEU set this March. A TEU is one 20-foot container or its equivalent.
“The year-over-year growth we saw this spring was off the charts because the comparisons were against a time when most stores were shut down due to the pandemic,” said Jonatha Gold, vice president for Supply Chain and Customs Policy with the NRF. “But we’re continuing to see strong growth even as we enter a point when stores had begun to reopen last year.”
While demand from consumers remains strong, the challenge for retailers and supply chains is keeping shelves stocked as port congestion and other supply chain disruptions continue to impact the industry and the economy more broadly, Gold added.
“Operational constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the surge in consumer demand have severely strained the logistics supply chain,” said Ben Hackett, Hackett Associates founder. “The level of growth in the last year has put unprecedented pressure on importers, carriers and domestic transportation providers alike.”
Looking ahead at the next several months heading into key selling seasons such as back-to-school and holiday, Global Port Tracker forecasts continued import growth from June through September. How retailers managed the potential for ongoing product shortages will be a key issue to watching heading into the fourth quarter.