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Container port congestion expected to ease temporarily

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WASHINGTON – Import volumes remain high and are likely to grow during the first half of 2022 but not at the explosive pace seen last year, according to the most recent Global Port Tracker report.

While the modest growth should provide a margin of relief at the nation’s congested container ports, the report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates cautioned that experts expect ongoing disruptions throughout 2022.

Lunar New Year factory closings in Asia this month will provide some temporary relief, said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett. But congestion continues to dog ports on both U.S. coasts, and the Port of Los Angeles alone has around 40 ships waiting to dock. As more ships arrive daily, unloading delays could run up to a month.

“Backups cannot be erased quickly as long as terminals continue to face a lack of space brought on by the supply chain’s inability to efficiently transfer cargo out of the terminals to its end destinations. A shortage of equipment, worker availability and storage space at distribution centers and warehouses across the country remains problematic, as does the export of empty containers back to Asia,” he said.

The fact that volumes aren’t falling reflects continued consumer demand, according to Jonathan Gold, NRF VP for supply chain and customs policy.

“Last year set a new bar for imports, and the numbers remain high as consumers continue to spend despite COVID-19 and inflation,” Gold said.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker are expected to handle 13 million twenty-foot equivalent units during the first half of 2022, up 1.5% over the 12.8 million TEU handled during the same period in 2021. By contrast, the first half of 2021 saw a record 35.7% increase over the unusually slow first six months of 2020, when many Asian factories and U.S. stores were shut down because of the pandemic.

The ports handled 2.09 million TEU in December 2021, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 1.2% from November and down 1% year-over-year. Imports for all of 2021 totaled 25.8 million TEU, a 17.4% increase over 2020’s record high of 22 million TEU that was set despite the pandemic.

Ports have not yet reported January numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.15 million TEU, up 4.4% year-over-year. February is forecast at 2.04 million TEU, up 8.7%; March at 2.12 million TEU, down 6.7%; April at 2.19 million TEU, up 2%; May at 2.27 million TEU, down 2.6%, and June at 2.26 million TEU, up 5.2%.



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