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Transpacific volumes show no sign of easing

Record-high volumes on the US west coast have seen imports exceed 1m teu in nine of the 10 past months as America’s gateways report record volumes of boxes handled.

The highest imports volume ever was recorded in March, when 1.16m teu were imported; April’s volume was down slightly, at 1.1m teu. High retail sales in March and April were in part due to the distribution of stimulus cheques across the country and generally reflective of the economy’s continued recovery, although this is unlikely to increase further in May, according to Peter Sand, BIMCO’s chief shipping analyst, who is predicting volumes will remain strong in the coming months, as retailers restock inventories and possibly prepare early for the holiday season to avoid shortages later.

Asia-US west coast rates are more than four times higher than this week in 2019


“Despite the continuing pandemic, most consumers are in good financial health and aren’t hesitating to spend,” commented Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF). “The cargo surge that began last fall doesn’t show any sign of stopping.”

“Updated guidance for fully vaccinated individuals will help further open the economy,” added NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay.

US-wide, the same volume trend holds; according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released earlier this month by the NRF and Hackett Associates, US ports covered by Global Port Tracker – Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the west coast, New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the east coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast – handled 2.27m teu in March, up 21.2% from February. This was a record for a single month since the NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

Imports in the first half of 2021 are forecast by the NRF to be 12.7m teu, which puts 2021 on track to beat 2020’s full-year total of 22m teu, which itself was up 1.9% over 2019 despite the pandemic.

“This is turning out to be a year of super growth that will act as the driver of the global economy,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.

BIMCO’s Sand speculated, though, that the inventory stocking happening now might dampen some of the higher demand in the usual Q3 peak season.

Judah Levine, research lead at Freightos, predicted a protracted peak season, commenting: “Though US retailers are now spending more on inventory than in 2019, those items continue to fly off the shelves, keeping inventory levels at record lows. This means that businesses may still struggle to avoid stockouts come the holiday season. It could also mean that even if consumer demand for goods declines as services rebound, retail restocking will keep ships full and rates up for some time longer.”

Asia-US west coast rates are more than four times higher than this week in 2019.

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.
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