US imports from Asia hit 2023 high in October despite muted peak season
US imports from Asia in October hit a high-water mark to date for 2023 as retailers rushed to get their merchandise into the country ahead of end-of-year holiday sales.
Containerized imports were up 5.9% from September and jumped 12.4% from October 2022 as the peak shipping season in the eastbound trans-Pacific, albeit more muted than normal, drew to a close and the largest US trade lane appeared to return to a more typical seasonal flow.
Imports from Asia last month totaled 1.57 million TEUs, highest yet for the year, according to PIERS, a sister product of the Journal of Commerce within S&P Global.
Still, year-to-date imports were down 16.6% compared with the first 10 months of 2022 due to softer import volumes for much of the year as inflation and high interest rates muted consumer spending.
Last month’s imports from Asia were up 1.1% from pre-COVID October 2019.
US retailers are forecasting record holiday sales this year of $966.6 billion, up 3% to 4% over last year.
“US consumers stand out in the global economy as they continue to benefit from job and wage growth and are still able to dip into savings accumulated during the pandemic,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which publishes the monthly Global Port Tracker (GPT) with the National Retail Federation.
GPT, which projects US import volumes six months out, is forecasting year-over-year growth in imports at least through March 2024.
West Coast market share unexpectedly fell in October
Although October is typically one of the busiest months of the year for West Coast ports, the region’s market share of imports from Asia slipped markedly, and unexpectedly, from September — down to 53.6% from 57.7%, according to PIERS.
Carrier executives told the Journal of Commerce that last month’s market share figure was an anomaly because trans-Pacific liners have been reducing the capacity they deploy to the West Coast by suspending vessel strings and blanking individual sailings at a rapid clip to prevent already-low spot rates from collapsing further.
“It’s not due to a softness on the West Coast. It’s more a reflection of [blank sailings],” said one carrier executive, who did not want to be identified. The West Coast should not be losing any cargo due to retailers shifting discretionary freight to the East and Gulf coasts, the source added, as was the case during the protracted West Coast longshore contract negotiations.
Indeed, due to the reduction in capacity to the West Coast, load factors have been quite high in October and November, a second carrier executive said. “We’re full to the West Coast,” he said.
Source: Journal of Commerce (JOC)
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