U.S. Container Import Volume Continues Its Robust Growth

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May 2024 U.S. container import volume continued its robust 2024 growth, increasing 6.2% from April and 11.9% when compared to the same month last year.

Strong Imports 

Imports from China again had a strong month, reaching the second-highest monthly volume since January of 2023. Port transit delays continue to improve across the board as there has been little impact on East and Gulf Coast import volumes from either the Panama drought or the Middle East conflict. May’s update of logistics metrics monitored by Descartes reinforces the strength of imports since the beginning of 2024. Despite strong U.S. container imports, the risk of global supply chain disruptions remains high because of ongoing conditions at the Panama and Suez Canal, upcoming labor negotiations at U.S. South Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, and the Middle East conflict.

Robust US Economy 

Versus May 2023, TEU import volume was up 11.9%, continuing to demonstrate exceptional year-over-year performance (see Figure 1). May 2024 U.S. container import volumes moved up from April 2024, increasing 6.2% to 2,346,382 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).  

For the top 10 U.S. ports, container import volume in May 2024 increased 117,826 TEUs (6.1%) versus April 2024 (see Figure 3). The ports of New York (up 45,959 TEUs) and Long Beach (up 45,841 TEUs) experienced the greatest container volume increases from April. The Port of Los Angeles posted the largest volume decline, falling 26,399 TEUs (-6.3%). Chinese imports into the U.S. continued the strong rebound in May as imports grew to 890,760 TEUs. Compared to the August 2022 high of 1,003,725 TEUs, May 2024 Chinese imports are down 11.3%, but further narrowing the gap and up significantly from April 2024 (up 17.6%) (see Figure 4). The top two commodity codes (HS-2s) continued to be consumer-oriented goods such as HS-94 (Furniture, Bedding, etc.), HS-39 (Plastics and Articles Thereof). China represented 38.0% of the total U.S. container imports in April, an increase of 3.7% from April, but still down 3.5% from the high of 41.5% in February 2022.

East and Gulf Coast 

In May 2024, container import volume share at East and Gulf Coast ports grew from April as West Coast ports receded. Comparing the top five West Coast ports to the top five East and Gulf Coast ports in May 2024 to April 2024 showed that total container import volume at the top East and Gulf Coast ports increased to 44.6% (up 0.7%) of total container import volume, and the top West Coast ports decreased slightly to 42.1% (down 0.7%). Compared to smaller ports, share at the top 10 ports in May 2024 held constant at 86.7%.

Panama Canal capacity Continues to Improve.

At the end of May, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced that it would continue with its April 15th plans to move to 32 transits per day and increase from 31 transits before the maintenance work at the Gatun locks from May 7–15. The increase in slots will still be shy of the normal operating capacity of 36.

Israel-Hamas War Continues to Threaten

The attacks and ongoing threats on shipping in the Red Sea by the Houthi from Yemen continue to force shippers to divert cargo that would traditionally move through the Suez Canal to longer and more expensive shipping lanes. Shipping concerns will likely increase if the Middle East is further destabilized.

Impending Labour Disruptions 

The potential severity of trade disruption stemming from the expiration of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) agreement is currently unknown. The agreement is scheduled to expire at the end of September 2024 and, if no resolution is reached, labor action could disrupt operations at these ports. ILA leadership has communicated that they do not intend to extend the current agreement and have advised members to brace for the possibility of a coast-wide strike in October 2024. 

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Source: Descartes

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