The coronavirus outbreak is expected to have a longer and larger impact on imports at major U.S. retail container ports than previously believed, according to the "Global Port Tracker" report released this week by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and consulting firm Hackett Associates.
“There are still a lot of unknowns to fully determine the impact of the coronavirus on the supply chain,” NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “As factories in China continue to come back on line, products are now flowing again, but there are still issues affecting cargo movement, including the availability of truck drivers to move cargo to Chinese ports. Retailers are working with both their suppliers and transportation providers to find paths forward to minimize disruption.”
Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett added, “Now that we are in the coronavirus environment, uncertainty has expanded exponentially. Our projections are based on the optimistic view that by the end of March or early April, some sort of normalcy will have returned to trade.”
A separate NRF survey of members recently found that 40% of respondents were seeing disruptions to their supply chains from the virus and that another 26% expect to see disruptions as the situation continues.
U.S. ports covered by the "Global Port Tracker" handled 1.82 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in January, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. This was 5.7% higher than December but 3.8% lower than the unusually high numbers seen a year ago, NRF reported.
February was estimated at 1.42 million TEU, slightly above the 1.41 million TEU expected a month ago but down 12.6% from last year and significantly lower than the 1.54 million TEU forecast before the coronavirus began to have an effect on imports. March is projected at 1.32 million TEU, down 18.3% from last year and less than the 1.46 million TEU expected last month or the 1.7 million TEU forecast before the virus.
While April had not previously been expected to be affected, it is now projected to be 1.68 million TEU, down 3.5% from last year and lower than the 1.82 million TEU forecast last month.
While the coronavirus outbreak makes forecasting difficult, the report calls for imports to jump to 2.02 million TEU in May, a 9.3% increase year over year, on the assumption that Chinese factories will have resumed most production by then and will be trying to make up for lower volume earlier. June is projected at 1.97 million TEU, up 9.6% year over year, and July is projected at 2.03 million TEU, up 3.3% year over year.
Imports during 2019 totaled 21.6 million TEU, down 0.8% from 2018 amid the ongoing trade war but still the second-highest year on record. The first half of 2020 is projected to total 10.23 million TEU, down 2.8% from the same period last year and below the 10.47 million TEU forecast a month ago.
"Global Port Tracker," which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Cal.; Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., Port Everglades and Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., on the East Coast and Houston, Texas, on the Gulf Coast.