January import levels remain in familiar territory to start 2022, reports Panjiva

United States-bound imports and shipments largely saw gains in January, according to data recently issued by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

Total January U.S.-bound containerized freight imports—at 2,669,536 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units)—were down 0.2% compared to December and down 1.37% annually. And for U.S.-bound shipments, Panjiva reported that January shipments—at 1,330,698—were off 0.5% compared to December and up 12.12% annually.

Panjiva said that January’s import tally continues what may be viewed as what it called a “post-holiday shipping hangover as carriers and ports continue to process backlogs. And it added that the annual shipment increase was below December’s 15% annual spread, which it said likely represents less than container load volumes and fragmented logistics for shippers when viewed against TEU figures it described as relatively static.

In an interview, Panjiva Research Director Eric Oak said even though there was a sequential decline, the January tally could have been worse.

“Had it been a higher January than compared to previous years, that means there is lots of backlog being pushed into the system,” he said. “The real signal will come from February and March, when we see how the Lunar New Year cycle looked and if carriers were able to clear the backlog. The first quarter will be the gauge.”

When looking at current import and shipment trends, Oak said that that shippers have adapted their logistics networks, on the heels of more than a year of “an extraordinary time, in terms of supply chains.” And he added that with container shipping being cyclical, there eventually will be a downturn at some point.

That has been evident, as shown by Maersk’s recent acquisition of Pilot Freight, a moved geared towards expanding its logistics and last-mile footprints and end-to-end services.

“There are signs we could be approaching a potential reversal, but it remains too early to say to specifically tell from the data,” he explained. “It would be a combination of factors, like inflation, and a shift in U.S. consumer preferences, from services to goods. If we start to see some of those things all combine into a less demand-driven environment, it is likely with the basic economics of supply and demand that volumes might start to fall.”

Looking at imports for specific sectors, Panjiva reported the following for January:

  • toys increased 37.4% annually and were up 51.1% over 2020, with other leisure products down 34.4% annually, possibly reflecting that higher levels of durable goods consumption were pandemic-driven;
  • household appliances were up 55.6% over 2020 and down 11.0% annually, likely driven by the same factors as toys and leisure imports;
  • IT imports fell 11.6% annually, driven by the semiconductor shortage; and
  • Consumer staples and materials imports dropped 13.5% and 4.2%, respectively, on an annual basis and were in line with 2020 levels

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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