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July Import Volume Show Pre-COVID Stability

According to a report by Descartes on Wednesday, imports arriving at U.S. ports in July amounted to 2,187,810 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). This represents a 14% decrease compared to the previous year, a 5% increase sequentially from June, and a nearly identical level to July 2019, the period prior to COVID (down by 0.5%).

While a 14% drop might raise concerns about the U.S. economy, July's numbers are a result of the exceptional surge in imports during the COVID period, which was a unique occurrence that concluded by late 2022 and is no longer a new development.

Imports into the U.S. have risen by 1.7% over the initial seven months of this year in comparison to the same period in 2019. Descartes stated, "Volumes are continuing to mirror the performance of 2019."

The data points to a significant increase in U.S. imports from China in July compared to June, with a month-on-month rise of 36,818 TEUs, followed by South Korea with the second-largest gain of 11,418 TEUs.

Among U.S. ports, Savannah, Georgia, experienced the most substantial growth, with an increase of 47,900 TEUs in July compared to June, followed by New York/New Jersey with a rise of 43,169 TEUs. In contrast, Los Angeles witnessed the sharpest month-on-month decline, down by 68,874 TEUs, as reported by Descartes.

Another source of data, the Global Port Tracker, , monitors imports at 12 prominent U.S. ports using official figures provided by the ports.

Although the final figures for July are still pending, Global Port Tracker's estimate suggests that volumes for the previous month totaled 1.91 million TEUs for the covered ports. This constitutes a 13% drop compared to the previous year, yet it aligns with pre-COVID levels—down 3% compared to July 2019 and unchanged from July 2018.

Global Port Tracker anticipates that imports will rise to 2.03 million TEUs this month for the monitored ports—the highest monthly count since October of the preceding year.

The forecast predicts that U.S. imports for the entirety of 2023 will witness a 13% decrease from the inflated levels of the preceding year but will be slightly above pre-pandemic levels, increasing by 2% in comparison to full-year 2018 and 3% in contrast to 2019.

Jonathan Gold, the vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the NRF, expressed, "We anticipate a smooth shipping season leading up to the winter holidays."

Ben Hackett, the founder of the consultancy Hackett Associates, noted that imports have not kept pace with the increase in sales so far this year due to retailers working through the accumulated inventory from the past 12 to 18 months. He expects cargo growth to resume as inventories are depleted. Import bookings remain robust according to FreightWaves SONAR's booking index, indicating strong imports over the next few weeks. The index measures the trend in a portion of bookings from all overseas ports based on the scheduled departure date.

As of Tuesday, scheduled bookings included in the index were close to their high for the year, up by 36% from the recent low in early May, and 14% higher than the same period in 2019, before the COVID outbreak.

Considering the varying transit times from global loading ports, the current bookings suggest healthy import levels throughout August and into September.


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