NRF: August May Have Been a Record Month for U.S. Container Imports

san pedro bay
The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest container terminal complex in the U.S. (file image)

Published Sep 10, 2020 9:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), an unexpectedly large volume of imports crossed the wharves at American seaports this summer - perhaps even a record quantity.

“It’s important to be careful how much to read into these numbers after all we’ve seen this year, but retailers are importing far more merchandise for the holidays than we expected even a month ago,” NRF VP for supply chain Jonathan Gold said. “Some of these imports are helping replenish inventories that started to run low after consumers unleashed pent-up demand when stores reopened. But this is the clearest sign yet that we could be in for a much happier holiday season than many had thought.”

Logistics consultancy Hackett Associates, which compiles NRF's monthly Global Port Tracker report, recorded a total of 1.92 million TEU in inbound traffic in the month of July. That represents a slight decline relative to the same period last year, but it is fully 19 percent higher than the volume in June.

The consultancy's estimate for August imports stands at 2.06 million TEU, up by six percent relative to the same (pre-COVID) period last year. If sustained, it would mark an all-time high for any month in any year, beating out the 2.04 million TEU record set in October 2018.

Volumes are expected to fall in the coming months, dropping to 1.53 million TEU in December. Even with the sharp spike in August's numbers, full year import volumes are expected to end down by about seven percent relative to 2019. 

“The economy has come into sharp focus, and for good cause,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “The previous yo-yo pattern of import levels reached a peak in July that appears to have extended into August. Nonetheless, data from around the globe is a mix, with a weak recovery as Europe struggles with rising COVID-19 numbers but China’s exports remain solid. Will this last? A lot of uncertainty is in play.”