US containerized imports from Asia in January hit their highest monthly total ever recorded, driven primarily by pre-Lunar New Year shipments.
However, if the next two months follow historical trends, February’s import volumes will drop as factories in Asia slowly ramp up production after closing for two weeks or more for the holidays, which began on Feb. 1. Imports should surge again in March. Imports from Asia last March set the monthly record that was broken last month.
US imports from Asia totaled 1.7 million TEU in January, a 4.5 percent increase from January 2021 and a 14.6 percent jump from December, according to PIERS.
The Global Port Tracker report, published monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, forecast that when total import volumes this month are finalized, they will be up 8.7 percent from last February, which were the lowest for all of 2021. The report predicts imports will fall 6.7 percent year over year in March, rise 2 percent in April, fall 2.6 percent in May, and rise 5.2 percent in June.
The spike in imports from Asia last month compared with December, a time of year when imports traditionally slow following the holiday season, reflects congestion in the trans-Pacific trade that affected major gateways on both US coasts. Generally, those ports that saw double-digit percentage growth in import volumes last month over December were the most congested.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach complex, which handles about 50 percent of US imports from Asia, saw volumes from Asia rise 25.8 percent month over month in January. Imports increased 12.7 percent sequentially in Savannah, 39.1 percent in the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma, 16.8 percent in Houston, 19.7 percent in Oakland, and 14.1 percent in Charleston. The largest vessel backlogs have been in Los Angeles-Long Beach and Charleston.
Asian imports in January declined 2.2 percent in New York-New Jersey and 10.6 percent in Norfolk from December.
Import volumes in the first half of 2022 are expected to stabilize to the West Coast but continue growing to the East Coast, according to the weekly Sunday Spotlight newsletter from Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis. “Volume growth across North America East Coast ports is exceptionally strong,” said Sea-Intelligence CEO Alan Murphy.
The coastwide contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association is set to expire on July 1. The ILWU earlier this month held its internal caucus to develop the union’s negotiating strategy but declined to comment on the details. In past contract years, retailers shifted some of their import volumes to all-water services from Asia to the East Coast to minimize risk in the event of labor disruptions in the summer and fall.