Holiday season ramp-up begins, swelling US port traffic

Published on
August 8, 2023
Shipping container boats

U.S. ports are predicted to see their highest cargo volumes since 2022 this August, in advance of the holiday season.

In its monthly shipping update, the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates found  the logistics environment in the second half of 2023 is normalizing.

“Port and package-delivery labor negotiations that threatened the supply chain at the beginning of the summer have been resolved and retailers are now focused on preparing for the all-important holiday season,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a release. “There are always supply challenges to be faced, but holiday merchandise is flowing into the country, and we expect to see a smooth shipping season ahead of the winter holiday shopping season.”

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said despite a downturn in the shipping market over the past year, consumer spending and U.S. employment have increased. Earlier this month, UPS announced a tentative contract agreement with its labor union that would avert a strike by its 340,000 employees.

“Dollar figures for international trade show imports remain in a year-over-year decline and cargo volume shows the same,” Hackett said. “The discrepancy between rising growth in sales and declining cargo volumes is happening because retailers are working their way through inventory built up over the last 12 to 18 months. Cargo growth should resume as inventories are depleted.”

July port data has not yet been released.

In June, U.S. ports monitored by the Global Port Tracker experienced a 5.2 percent drop from May, sinking to 1.83 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The first half of 2023 saw a 22 percent overall decline in TEUs compared to 2022.

Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.-based Yellow, one of the largest trucking firms in the U.S., officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 7 August, putting 30,000 workers out of jobs, roiling the market, and likely causing higher freight rates, especially for less-than-truckload hauls. Many small trucking companies have also filed for bankruptcy in the past year, the result of a cyclical downturn in the market that has resulted in a contraction of capacity.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock 

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