The Positive Side of Port Delays

By Alan Wolf, YSN

It’s a case of the glass being half empty or half full.

Yes, container ships laden with furniture and appliances are sitting idle in the nation’s ports, waiting days and sometimes weeks to unload their wares.

While the logjam at sea is adding to the mountain of backorders, the root cause, aside from aging infrastructure, is soaring consumer demand — and that’s not a bad thing to have.

According to data from Global Port Tracker, produced by consultancy Hackett Associates for the National Retail Federation (NRF), the packed U.S. ports are at full capacity, breaking all sorts of records for passing through imports. In January, for example, ports for the first time handled more than 2 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), which is a measure of cargo capacity. That represents a 13 percent increase year over year, and the busiest January since NRF began tracking imports in 2002.

While the figures aren’t in yet for February, the import numbers are expected to be significantly higher than normal, with a projected 24.4 percent increase over last year, before the pandemic brought trade to a halt.

“Consumers haven’t let the pandemic stop them from shopping … and retailers are importing huge amounts of merchandise to meet the demand,” said NRF supply chain and customs policy VP Jonathan Gold. Gold cited recent NRF data forecasting record retail growth this year as COVID begins to recede and pent-up consumer demand is unleashed.

See: Retail Sales to Top $4.3 Trillion

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett added that the COVID vaccines “appear to be highly effective and are bringing strong signs of a quick and sustainable recovery” — which is great news for business, but less so for port congestion.

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