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Import Cargo Continuing to Rise Despite Red Sea Disruptions

Inbound cargo volume at the nation’s major container ports is expected to see year-over-year increases through the first half of the year despite attacks on ships in the Red Sea, according to the Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Only about 12 percent of US-bound cargo comes through the Suez Canal but the situation in the Red Sea is bringing volatility and uncertainty that are being felt around the globe,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “US retailers are working to mitigate the impact of delays and increased costs. However, the longer the disruptions occur, the bigger impact this could have. More needs to be done among partners and allies to ensure the safety of vessels and crews in order to avoid yet another year of supply chain disruption.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said carriers are using a surplus of capacity built up during the pandemic to ease the impact as voyages are diverted around the Cape of Good Hope or to the US West Coast, and that improvements are already being seen.

“The shipping industry has rapidly adjusted by adding extra vessels to its networks, and has returned to normal weekly ship arrivals,” Hackett said. “Service from Asia to the US East Coast is working well and the dramatic rise in freight rates is showing signs of easing, with pressure from shippers likely to quickly bring these down.”

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US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.87 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units—one 20-foot container or its equivalent—in December, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 1 percent from November but up 8.3 percent year over year. December’s results brought 2023 to 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8 percent from 2022.

Ports have not yet reported January’s numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.81 million TEU, up 0.3 percent year over year. February is forecast at 1.86 million TEU, up 20.4 percent year over year, and March is forecast at 1.71 million TEU, up 5.5 percent from last year. February is traditionally the slowest month because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia but the timing of the holiday and its impact on cargo and year-over-year comparisons varies. April is forecast at 1.83 million TEU, up 2.6 percent year over year; May at 1.94 million, up 0.3 percent, and June at 1.93 million TEU, up 5.5 percent.

Those numbers would bring the first half of 2024 to 11.1 million TEU, up 5.3 percent from the same period last year.

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