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Revised Forecast Sees Increases in 2020 and 2021 Retailer Import TEUs

NRF Forecasts increases in retailers import TEUs
Containers in port (file photo)

Published Dec 10, 2020 9:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Driven by continued strength in retailers’ imports, the National Retail Federation is now predicting that 202 will end with an increase in retailers’ volumes through the major US ports and that 2021 will also start with year over year increases. According to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, import volumes continued strong after setting new records this fall as retailers stocked up both stores and warehouses for the holiday season and met the new demands for quick delivery of online orders.

“The pandemic has made the past year one of the most trying the supply chain has ever seen, but retailers have met that challenge,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “We’ve gone from not knowing whether we would be able to get merchandise from China to having a surplus of goods when stores were closed to having to meet pent-up demand as consumers returned. At this point, retailers have seen a successful holiday season so far and goods are reaching the shelves. We hope 2020 is a one-time experience, but we’ve learned a lot.”

The report, which tracks retailers’ import volume at the major US ports, forecasts continued strength through the end of the year. For November they are forecasting when the numbers are tallied it will show a 22.4 percent jump year-over-year as measured in TEUs. That would make November the fourth-busiest month on record. December is forecast at 1.91 million TEUs, up 11 percent from last year.

As recently as a month ago, the NRF was expecting a drop of 3.4 percent in TEUs for 2020 versus last year making it the lowest annual total since 2017. With the recent string of record months, the Port Tracker revised the forecast for 2020 expecting just under a one percent increase to 21.8 million TEUs, tied with 2018 as the busiest year on record.

“With inventories low but demand growing, we have witnessed a surge in imports as retailers try to keep up,” said Ben Hackett founder of Hackett Associates. “The dramatic shift to online shopping coupled with the expectation of next-day delivery is also spurring the growth of imports at warehouses for major online sellers, who need to have enough stock on hand not just to meet demand but to meet it instantly.”

With retail sales rebounding strongly due to continued consumer resilience, the NRF forecast that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6 and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 and $766.7 billion.

They are also expecting a positive start to 2021. For the first four months of 2021, they are forecasting retailer import volumes to increase between 1.5 and 2.4 percent each month and a nearly 18 percent spike for March versus 2020 when factories remained closed in China after the Lunar New Year holiday due to measures to control the virus.