US ports set to break records in August as number of services rise

12:13am 27th August 2021




The number of distinct services on the Asia North America West Coast trade lane is the highest it has been in the last ten years, said Alan Murphy, CEO, Sea-Intelligence.

“Following a dip in the number of distinct services on Asia-NAWC due to the pandemic, there was a steady increase on the trade lane, with 39 weekly liner services offered in August 2020, rising to 42 by December 2020, and finally to 53 from August 2021 onwards.

“This is the highest that this figure has been on the trade lane in the 2012-2021 period. We found that this increase is driven by the non-alliance services, which increased sharply from 9-11 weekly services in 2017-2020 to 23 in August 2021.

He said that from a pre-pandemic base of 10 weekly non-alliance services, 13 new non-alliance services have been launched in the trade lane, 12 of which made the first departure in 2021.

“All of these services were standalone services, i.e. the operating carrier has full allocation of the capacity on board each vessel, with 3 of these services offered by newcomers on the trade (two by CU Lines and one by BAL Container Lines).”

Murphy added that with container supply unable to match demand, and high freight rates, there is an obvious benefit to be had by the carriers.

“Our analysis showed that carriers are perhaps looking to benefit from the current environment, offering standalone services, knowing that not only will they be able to fill up the vessels, but will also be able to get very high freight rates for them.”

Record volume through ports

With these new services, and record demand from US retailers, it is no surprise that volumes through US container ports will reach a record-breaking 2.37m TEU in August, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

This would be the largest number of containers imported during a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002. The previous high was 2.33m in May 2021.

August is traditionally the beginning of the peak season when retailers stock up on holiday merchandise each year, but NRF believes demand will be higher than usual as companies try to beat any continuing problems in the supply chain.

“Many retailers are moving up their shipments this year as part of their risk mitigation strategies to ensure that sufficient inventory will be available during the holidays.”

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said: “Strong consumer demand has outpaced supply chain operations since late last year and could remain a challenge as the holidays approach. The continuing lack of labour, equipment and capacity has highlighted systemic issues and the need to create a truly 21 century supply chain to ensure resiliency against the next major disruption.

“Passage of infrastructure legislation currently pending in Congress is a key step in that direction. We need continued focus by the administration to help address these issues as well.”

“The strain of the continuing economic expansion is putting considerable pressure on the logistics supply chain,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “We’re seeing a lack of shipping capacity combined with port congestion as vessels line up to discharge goods from both Asia and Europe.

“Delays are stretching to landside as port terminals struggle with space shortages, and labour challenges are affecting ports, railroads and trucking companies alike. This part of the recovery is not a pretty sight.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.15m TEU in June, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 7.8 percent from May but up 33.7 percent from a year earlier, when many shops were closed because of the pandemic.

Ports have not reported July numbers yet, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.22m TEU, which would be up 15.7 percent from the same time last year. 

September is forecast at 2.21m TEU, up 4.9 percent year-over-year; October at 2.15m TEU, down 3 percent for the first year-over-year decline since July 2020; November at 2.07m TEU, down 1.5 percent, and December at 2.02m TEU, down 4.1 percent.

The first half of 2021 totalled 12.8m TEU, up 35.6 percent from the same period last year. For the full year, 2021 is on track to total 25.9m TEU, up 17.5 percent over 2020 and a new annual record topping last year’s 22m. Cargo imports during 2020 were up 1.9 percent over 2019 despite the pandemic.

by Yvonne Mulder

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