Global supply chains under strain

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WASHINGTON — Imports at retail container ports reflect robust consumer demand in the United States as well as the economic and logistical disruptions that have snarled global supply chains over the past 17 months, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

“Operational constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the surge in consumer demand have severely strained the logistics supply chain,” says Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates.

Hackett Associates and NRF are tracking consumer demand in the United States — which has rebounded faster than expected as vaccines in advanced countries and the U.S. government’s economic-stimulus spending unleash pent-up business activity and job creation. “The year-over-year growth we saw this spring was off the charts, because the comparisons were against a time when most stores were shut down due to the pandemic,” says Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

But data from the nation’s largest container ports also reveal the extent of COVID’s cascading effects on global supply chains. “The challenge for retailers and supply chains is keeping shelves stocked as port congestion and other supply chain disruptions continue to impact the industry and the economy more broadly,” says Gold.

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.33 million TEU in May. That was up 8.6% from April and the most containers seen during a single month since NRF began tracking retail imports in 2002. The previous record was 2.27 million TEU in March, when volume was up a record 64.9%. That rate was artificially high because many Asian factories had shut down due to the pandemic at that point last year and U.S. stores were closed.



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