United States-bound import and shipment levels saw continued gains in August, according to data recently issued by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.
Total August U.S.-bound shipments—at 1,353,550—increased 3.1% annually and were 23.2% above 2019’s 1,098,272. And containerized freight imports—at 3,016,706 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units)—headed up 11.2% annually (and up 18.1% compared to August 2019) and were up 4.4%, from July to August—trending down from July’s 14.3% annual spread. Despite the slowing of annual growth percentage, August’s TEU tally represented the second highest month on record, for U.S. shipments, with March 2021’s the highest, at 3,028,143 TEU.
Panjiva explained that these numbers continue what it referred to as the “year-long peak season” in which U.S. logistics facilities have been “running flat out, exposing weaknesses in supply chains from Suez to Long Beach.” And it added that while these market conditions have translated into high profits for container shipping lines, it also “removes flexibility to work around any unforeseen events.”
On the product side, for August, Panjiva reported the following import numbers on an annual basis:
Panjiva noted that the gains in semiconductor shipments are a byproduct of the ongoing “chip crisis,” as seen by the recent General Motors plant closure. And it added that the declines for consumer staples and healthcare shipments were up against highs on the backend of the pandemic.
“Much of the surge of the last year may have been catch-up shipments from the lockdowns experienced by much of the world,” said Panjiva.
Looking at origin locations, Panjiva found that Asian countries, excluding China, with U.S.-bound imports up 20% annually and up 27.4% compared to August 2019. U.S.-bound imports out of Europe rose 16.2% annually and were up 36.3% compared to July, with imports out of China up 4.1%.
Panjiva Research Director Eric Oak said in an interview that this most recent batch of data represents a pattern of sustained growth, aside from a post-pandemic surge or a post-lockdown surge in imports.
“This is real, with logistics and supply chain operations running at Peak Season levels for the entire year,” he said. “It is similar to what we saw last year around October, typically the highest-volume month for holiday imports. This has been happening all year and has placed a lot of strain on supply chain and logistics operations, from that perspective.”
Oak added that by August 2020, imports were at levels well beyond 2019 and 2018, with the surge being paced by catch up from pandemic-driven lockdowns. This was not for things like laptops or consumer durables, which are generally not repeat purchases, with a fair amount of that demand likely filled last fall.
“Even with the holiday shopping season coming up in the next few months, shipments of consumer staples and healthcare items may not be as in demand right now compared to last fall,” he said. “We are starting to see that decline.”