U.S. imports experienced a rebound in March after a sluggish February, but the future outlook remains uncertain. Recent data reveals that wholesale inventories remain high while cargo flows from China are declining.
In March, U.S. imports reached a total of 1,853,705 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), marking a 27.5% decrease compared to the previous year but a 6.9% increase from February and a 4.2% increase from March 2019, pre-COVID.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were the notable beneficiaries, with imports rising by 30% and 25% respectively compared to February. These Southern California ports were severely affected by disruptions during the Lunar New Year in February.
Conversely, the data showed month-on-month declines along the East Coast, with Savannah down 6%, New York and New Jersey down 5%, and Charleston down 3%.
Despite a decrease in import flows from China, Southern California experienced a rebound. Imports from China in March declined by 46,573 TEUs compared to February, as reported by Descartes. However, this decline was counterbalanced by a combined increase in imports from Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.
In March, U.S. imports from China totaled 586,129 TEUs, representing a significant 41.6% drop from the recent peak in August 2022. Overall U.S. imports fell by 26.7% during the same period.
Imported goods from China accounted for 41.5% of the total U.S. imports in February 2022, but by March, China's share had decreased to 31.6%.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) anticipates that U.S. imports will continue to rise in the coming months, albeit not to the levels seen during the pandemic. According to the Global Port Tracker report by the NRF and Hackett Associates, imports to 12 U.S. ports are estimated to reach 1.68 million TEUs in March, an 8.3% increase compared to February.
The Global Port Tracker's current forecast indicates a month-on-month increase in imports, projecting a climb to 2.13 million TEUs by August, a 26.7% rise from the estimated March levels.
Jonathan Gold, the NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, stated that the expected numbers would have been considered normal before the pandemic. He emphasized the priority of resolving labor negotiations at West Coast ports and avoiding any additional supply chain challenges on top of the ones faced in recent years.