While coming up short compared to October’s record levels, United States-bound imports and shipments, in November, remained elevated, according to recently-issued data by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.
Total November U.S.-bound containerized freight imports—at 2,854,305 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units)—were down 4.7% compared to October’s record 2,995,176 TEU and up 6.3% annually. And through the first 11 months of 2021, imports are up 19.6% annually, to 31,699,365 TEU.
November shipments—at 1,333,314—were down 5.8% compared to October’s 1,415,250 and up 13.6% annually. Through the first 11 months of 2021, shipments are up 20.8%, to 14,129,936.
Even with the sequential shipment and import declines, Panjiva Research director Eric Oak observed that this batch of November data shows that elevated U.S. imports are entering the U.S. even after the typical October peak. And with U.S. imports up nearly 20% (19.6%) annually, Oak noted that serves as a further indicator of the scale and longevity of changes in consumer trends after pandemic lockdowns.
“October remains the key peak month for holiday shipping, and, in normal circumstances, we would expect November to show some declines,” said Oak. “Obviously there still are some late orders coming in and maybe some reorders for popular products. If you wanted to get goods in by November, you would have had to order them by August or September. Again, under normal circumstances, you would expect a decline start to happen by November leading into the [off-Peak] season. We are still kind of well within the bounds of the last few months…since March, we have seen some rough ups and downs, up or down 5%, every month or every few months. It is not like we have departed from the current situation yet, which is what a lot of people are looking for to start to see happen. Our data shows that we are pretty much in the same boat. What is interesting is that the product mix shifted a little bit towards more Christmas goods, which is also not unexpected.”
Looking at the first 11 months of 2021, Oak called the year “exceptional,” going back to March, which has especially been reflected in the past few months leading up to the holiday season, as imports have hit record levels with regularity.
“It really has been an exceptional time with an exceptional amount of imports,” he said. “The 2021 holiday season has been no exception.
Looking ahead, Oak noted that importers are at a point where decisions need to be made about how to handle inventory planning processes for 2022, with most planning to stock up but also are in a position where current backlog needs to be cleared.
“The first opportunity really for some ‘slack’ to be re-entered into the system will be the Lunar New Year, and we are anxious to see how that affects imports, as to whether imports will remain solid over that period or if they will drop slightly,” he said. “That could be the first time we see signs of what is to come. We do expect companies to manage inventory on a much more risk-adverse perspective than previously, company mentions of supply chain and logistics and inflation have been at an all-time high for our datasets. We expect companies to take more of a just-in-case approach to inventory management, at least until see more signs in the future that methods, or plans, are changing.”
What’s more, Panjiva also observed that even with the sequential declines, supply chains remain congested as goods work their way through logistics networks. As an example, it showed how Flexport’s Ocean Timeliness Indicator highlighted how the time it took for goods to work their way across the Pacific and to inland U.S. networks increased by 46.1% westbound and 50.5% eastbound since the end of 2020.
“Lead times for companies looking to ship on those routes are greatly extended, with data from Nov 21 showing 107.4 days from the cargo being ready in Asia to its eventual departure from the port of unlading in the U.S.—more than three months,” it stated. “That means that goods that are ordered now may not be able to enter the country until March or April if sent via sea, and goods arriving now could have been ordered back in July or August. This impacts company operations, with firms being incentivized to spend more money on maintaining inventories and securing supplies, potentially ordering more goods to ensure that needs are met, perpetuating the cycle.”
Looking at imports for specific sectors, Panjiva reported the following for November: