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US Imports Show Signs of Recovery, But Long Road Ahead

The monthly Global Port Tracker (GPT) report for March, released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, indicates that imports to the United States will start to rebound this month after experiencing a decline in February 2023, reaching their lowest level since May 2020.

Projections show that imports for February 2023 are expected to reach 1.56 million TEU, which is a 13.6% decrease from January, a 26.2% drop compared to February 2022, and the lowest import level since the demand crash caused by the pandemic in May 2020.

Year-on-year comparisons are anticipated to remain significantly lower than 2022 levels, with March imports forecasted at 1.74 million TEU (down 25.9%), April at 1.87 million TEU (down 17.2%), May at 1.92 million TEU (down 19.7%), and June at 2 million TEU (down 11.5%), in comparison to the corresponding periods of the previous year.

The NRF predicts that the gradual increase in imports will continue through midsummer, with July imports projected to be down by only 2.5% compared to the same period in the previous year.

Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, stated, "There are many uncertainties about the economy, but we expect imports to show modest gains over the next several months," emphasizing the cautious optimism.

Retailers surveyed express their primary concern of avoiding excessive ordering from Asian factories until they have a clearer understanding of consumer demand. This cautious approach aims to prevent a recurrence of the past two years when retailers replenished inventories to levels surpassing consumer demand.

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, mentioned that the tight labor market and strong wages are helping consumers withstand the impact of inflation and maintain their spending habits, despite the low import volumes.

According to a logistics manager for several national retailers who works as a transportation industry consultant, the quantity and type of products carried over by retailers will play a crucial role in determining the amount they order from Asian factories in the coming months.

The GPT report surveys ports on the West, East, and Gulf Coasts, including Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami, Jacksonville, and Houston.



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