US record imports streak ends, volumes still high

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US record imports streak
After, the Port of Los Angeles logged a record monthly throughput of 935,345 TEUs in July to remain the Western Hemisphere’s busiest port,, but volume slipped in August. Photo from Port of LA
  • Monthly record imports since mid-2020 ended in August, but volumes hover above 2.5 million TEUs, still higher than levels that set off port congestion and shipping delays
  • Factors such as slowing economy, inflation, high fuel costs and others have not slowed down US container imports, a Descartes update says
  • Increased volume of imports from China in US East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, congestion, and long vessel queues put pressure on supply chain predictability

US monthly record-setting imports’ streak since mid-2020 ended in August, but volumes remain above 2.5 million TEUs, still higher than the level that kicked off port congestion and delays for the past year and a half, a shipping industry report said.

A slowing economy, inflation, high fuel costs, and other factors have not slowed US container imports, says the technology platform Descartes report on the Hellenic Shipping news portal, as increased import volumes from China, delays at major East and Gulf Coast ports and 130 vessels waiting to dock weigh on supply chain predictability.

Descartes Datamynes’ August update on the logistics metrics it is tracking points to a congested and challenging global supply chain performance for the rest of 2022.

US container imports fell below the year-on-year level, as TEU volume retreated 1.8% to 2.53 million, although still up 18% from pre-pandemic August 2019. This was the first month since August 2020 that there was no record versus the previous year.

In July, the Port of Los Angeles extended the US monthly record imports streak by handling 935,345 TEUs to remain the Western Hemisphere’s busiest port, but its executive director Eugene Seroka expected volumes to slow in August.

Container import volume last month was relatively flat against July 2022, when volume declined 0.1%.

In August, US container import volumes from China rose 1.4% to 1 million TEUs, compared with July 2022, and up 6.3% as against August 2021. Chinese imports in August were the highest in 2022. China made up 40% of US container import volume, up 0.6% since July.

US East and Gulf Coast ports continued to lead the West Coast gateways in volume in August 2022 versus July 2022, but their overall share was lower.

Comparing the top five West Coast ports with the top five East and Gulf Coast ports in August versus July, Descartes shows that, of the total import container volume, the East declined slightly in August 2022 to 44.1%, while the West increased to 41.9% in August  from 40.6% in July.

The top 10 ports gained share in August 2022 over smaller ports as the top 10 represented 85.9% of all volume, compared with 85.1% in July 2022 and 86.3% year-on-year.

Comparing container throughput over five-month periods, Descartes said the top West Coast ports experienced shifts to other ports, including the East and Gulf Coasts.

The Port of New York/New Jersey retook the top spot at 451,190 TEUs in August, up nearly 41,000 TEUs compared with July. The Port of Los Angeles dropped considerably and came in second at 409,933 TEUs, down under 71,000 TEUs versus July. Long Beach was third, up slightly in August by close to 8,000 TEUs.

Descartes said part of the shift to East Coast ports can be attributed to the growth of Chinese imports and shippers’ decisions based upon last year’s West Coast port congestion.

The Ports of Norfolk, Charleston and New York/New Jersey saw Chinese imports in August versus July increase 32.5%, 16.2% and 15.8%, respectively. The Port of Los Angeles saw a 16.7% decline, which explains to a great degree why iits overall import container volume fell so much.

Port delays in August were consistent with July. The two largest West Coast ports experienced less than 7-day delays, but East and Gulf Coast ports remained in the double-digits.

The number of ships waiting off ports, according to MarineTraffic/American Shipper, fell overall by 15% to 130 at the end of August , but the percentage of the total waiting off East and Gulf Coast ports increased 11% to 73 in August, reflecting higher wait times.