Pandemic’s Impact on Retail Imports Easing, But Volume is Still Well Below Last Year, Says NRF

by Alex Tostado

Washington, D.C. — COVID-19’s impact on U.S. retail imports is easing, beating prior forecasts, says the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF and partner Hackett Associates released their Global Port Tracker on Monday, which showed that ports handled just over 1.6 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), beating expectations from one month ago.

“Imports are erratic, with one month up and the next down,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. “Getting 40 million people back to work will take time, especially with many fearful of catching the virus and staying home. That makes a rapid return to an economic boom unlikely.”

Even with an immediate boom delayed, Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for NRF, points out that the April numbers show that the economy is recovering faster than what was projected just one month ago. The volume of 1.6 million TEUs in April was down 7.8 percent from April 2019, but it was up 17 percent from March 2020. NRF’s forecast for April showed 1.5 million TEUs coming through the ports.

“It may still be too soon to say but we’ll take that as a sign that the situation could be slowly starting to improve,” says Gold. “Consumers want to get back to shopping, and as more people get back to work, retailers want to be sure their shelves are stocked.”

Imports for the six-month period from April through September are expected to total 9.74 million TEUs, a 3 percent improvement from the 9.46 million TEUs expected in the March report. NRF forecast the first half of 2020 to total 9.46 million TEUs, down 10 percent from the same period last year but better than the 9.15 million TEUs expected one month ago. Before the extent of the pandemic was known, the first half of the year was forecast at 10.47 million TEUs.

Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports, including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

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