Imports set to drop over holiday season as inventory levels remain high

As retail sales increase, imports are expected to fall by the end of 2022 to their lowest level in two years.

That’s according to the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates Global Port Tracker, which tracks port data such as iimport volume and congestion. According to recent data, U.S. ports saw 2.26 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in August, up 3.5% from July and down 0.4% from August 2021.

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Although September figures are yet to be released, the tracker expects the number of imports to be down 3% year-over-year. Compared to last year, October imports are expected to be down 9.4%, November 4.9% and December 6.1%. If those predictions materialize, the December figures would represent the lowest number of imports since February 2021, which was the last time the number of 20ft containers fell below 2 million.

January 2023 will likely see a further explosion in import activity to 2.06 million TEUs, which would still be down 4.9% from January 2022.

The expected drop in imports can be attributed to carrier shipping capacity reductions and factory closures in China, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said in a statement. At a time, excess inventory at US retailers meant more products available in stores and stock units.

Even though import volumes are expected to fall, retailers will likely have enough product on hand, even if consumers finish their holiday shopping earlier than usual. Executives from Hibbett Sports, Genesco, Foot Locker and Macy’s recently noted their availability to meet demand in key categories this season due to higher than usual inventory levels across all areas. The excesses are largely the result of delayed Q1 and Q2 orders that only recently arrived, compounding existing orders for the season.

“Many retailers imported goods earlier this year to combat rising inflation and ongoing supply chain disruption issues,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement.

Despite broader headwinds in the spending environment, such as inflation and high interest rates, consumers are still pay for purchases. NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in his Monthly Economic Review earlier this week that even though the economic environment in the United States is “destabilizing” and consumer confidence is down, spending have persisted.

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