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US Imports Up in April, Above Pre-Pandemic Levels

The article discusses the recent trends in U.S. imports and the outlook for container shipping. Despite concerns about an impending recession and high inventory-to-sales ratios, U.S. imports have been increasing. In April, U.S. ports imported over 2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containerized cargo, which is a 9% increase from March and a 5% increase from April 2019.


Several ports, including the Port of New York/New Jersey, Savannah, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Houston, saw significant import gains in April compared to the previous month. The upward trend in imports is consistent with pre-pandemic volume levels.


The data from Descartes (based on customs filings, which is calculated differently than port counts), shows that the increase in imports is primarily driven by a rebound in flows from China.


U.S. imports from China rose 27% month-on-month in April, with China's share of U.S. imports increasing to 36.8% from 31.6% in March.


However, the National Retail Federation (NRF) expressed caution and highlighted the declines compared to the peak in 2021-2022, uncertainties ahead, and a reduced outlook for the peak season.


Global Port Tracker, published by the NRF and Hackett Associates, covers import flows to 12 leading U.S. ports. Final numbers are not in yet, but it estimates April volumes will be 1,732,948 TEUs for the ports it covers.


That’s down 23% from April 2022, when volumes were inflated by the one-off COVID-era demand boom. But it’s up 7% from March, 12% from February and essentially flat (down 0.7%) versus April 2019, pre-COVID.


Global Port Tracker cut its first-half volume forecast to 10.4 million TEUs on Monday from 10.8 million TEUs a month ago and now expects a 23% year-on-year first-half decline. It forecasts third-quarter imports of 6 million TEUs to the ports it covers, down 7% year on year.

The forecast indicates a peak in inbound volumes in August, followed by a pullback.

Overall,


while U.S. imports have been increasing and showing consistency with pre-pandemic levels, there are uncertainties and cautious outlooks regarding the future trends in container shipping and import volumes.

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