Mavroudis Global Transportation & Logistics

NRF Forecasts Dramatic Growth in Retail Imports at US Ports in 2021

March 10, 2021

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“NRF is forecasting what could turn out to be record retail sales growth in 2021, and retailers are importing huge amounts of merchandise to meet the demand,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The supply chain slowdown we usually see after the holiday season never really happened this winter, and imports are already starting to grow again. Consumers haven’t let the pandemic stop them from shopping, and retailers are making sure their customers can find what they want and find it safely.”

According to newly released forecasts in the NRF’s monthly Global Port Tracker prepared with Hackett Associates, the first half of 2021 is forecast at 11.7 million TEU, up 23.3 percent from the same period in 2020. That would also place the imports on a trend to surpass the 22 million TEU that arrived at the major US container ports in 2020. Despite the impact on imports in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic, the TEU volume recovered to a 1.9 percent increase versus 2019.

“As COVID-19 ravaged the economy in 2020, it seemed as if any hope of recovery was distant,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Then came the rollout of vaccines that appear to be highly effective and are bringing strong signs of a quick recovery. The successful distribution of vaccines will help ensure that the economic recovery will likely be strong and sustainable.”



U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker recorded a strong start to the new year. In January, the major ports recorded a 13 percent increase in import volumes, handling 2.06 million TEUs. While volumes were off 2.3 percent from December as retailers’ busy holiday season came to an end, it was still the busiest January since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. January 2021 was also the first time the month has ever topped the two million TEU mark in the NRF’s report.

The NRF is also forecasting significantly higher than normal import numbers for both February and March, but it notes the year-over-year comparisons will be skewed due to the impact of the global shutdowns a year ago on trade. They note that this year some Chinese factories remained open during the Lunar New Year holiday to fill a surge in orders, and ships arriving at U.S. ports faced a backlog to unload. 

Between February and July, the Global Port Tracker is forecasting monthly import volumes ranging from 1.88 million to 2.02 million TEU. They are calling for 20 to 25 percent monthly volume increases and even in July a better than five percent year-over-year increase beyond the rebound experienced in July 2020.

The Global Port Tracker provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of 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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