US imports from Asia showed no signs of slowing down in August, shrugging off the weakening market indicators of falling spot rates and vessel over-capacity that normally signal a softening of freight volumes.
Asian imports last month totaled 1.72 million TEU — up 3.5 percent from July and 8.3 percent higher than August 2021, according to data released Thursday by PIERS.
Ports on the East and Gulf coasts continued a year-long trend of increasing their market share of Asian imports as retailers shift discretionary cargo away from the West Coast while contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and terminal operators drag on beyond the July 1 expiration of the previous coastwide contract.
The West Coast share of US imports from Asia this year through August declined to 58.2 percent, down from 61.2 percent in the first eight months of 2021. The East Coast share of Asian imports rose to 34.7 percent from 32.8 percent, while the Gulf Coast share was 6.8 percent, up from 5.6 percent, according to PIERS.
East and Gulf coast ports continue to gain market share even though vessel backlogs are more of a problem at those gateways and West Coast ports are relatively fluid compared with early this year. According to PIERS, East and Gulf coast ports combined handled 5.6 million TEU of Asian imports in January through August, up from 4.9 million TEU in the year-ago period. The 14.6 percent increase in container volume has resulted in record vessel backlogs and inland supply chain congestion at some of those gateways.
Tim Denoyer, senior vice president and analyst at the transportation consultancy ACT Research, told the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) annual conference in Long Beach on Wednesday to expect supply chain bottlenecks at those ports through the end of the year.
“The East Coast infrastructure is not set up for this level of volume. It [congestion] will persist through the peak season,” Denoyer said.
August is typically considered the start of the peak shipping season as holiday merchandise begins to flood into the US. This year, however, retailers fast-forwarded their imports in advance of the West Coast labor negotiations, and retailers and industry analysts earlier this summer indicated that the “heaviest part” of the peak season may have already occurred.