U.S. Stimulus and Consumer Spending Drive West Coast Imports to New
The surge in US container imports continued in April when imports loaded on the west coast amounted to 1.10 million TEUs. Imports had never exceeded this level until August 2020, and developments over the past nine months mean April’s imports are only the sixth highest on record.
In the first four months of the year, volumes increased by 40.3%, an increase of 1.2 million TEUs compared to the same period in 2020. Compared to 2019, volumes are still up by an impressive 22.8% (+ 793,500 TEU).
Imports declined in April compared to March, when volumes hit a record high of 1.16 million TEUs. Record imports from the west coast of the United States helped make March the busiest month of all time for global container transport with 15.5 million TEUs exported globally (source: CTS).
The slight decrease in loaded imports between March and April corresponds to the evolution of retail sales in the United States, which after a record March (629.9 billion dollars) fell to 616.7 billion dollars; still the second highest level on record. Prior to March, retail sales in the United States had never exceeded $ 600 billion. Retail sales in the two months were pushed up by the arrival of the $ 1,400 check, which is part of the latest stimulus round in the United States, at the end of March and during the first part of April, increasing spending by US consumers on imported products.
“The big question is, how long will these drives last? In terms of retail sales, with the March round of checks likely the last, retail sales are unlikely to increase further in May, ”said Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst at BIMCO.
“This does not necessarily mean that imports from the west coast of the United States have peaked and that volumes remain strong in May. High volumes, combined with continued congestion, have supported the continued strength of the trans-Pacific freight market, ”says Sand.
High retail sales in March and April mean inventory needs to be replenished, and the shutdown and start-up nature of the supply chain over the past year may prompt importers to move forward in their usual schedules to avoid shortages later. That would mean higher imports now and in the coming months, which could dampen some of the higher demand during the usual peak season of the third quarter. “