US imports drop off in 2023: NRF

"We’re not seeing the explosive demand we saw the past two years," said NRF VP Jonathan Gold.

oil rigs on body of water
Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Import levels are expected to remain below 2022 levels through the fall of 2023, as consumer demand tapers off in the face of economic headwinds.

The latest Global Port Tracker from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates raised the forecast decline in imports for the first half of the year.

“Consumers are still spending and retail sales are expected to increase this year, but we’re not seeing the explosive demand we saw the past two years,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold, in a statement.

It comes as March totals showed imports down 30.6% year-over-year. While the import levels are in part facing tough comparisons to the sky-high demand levels and port backups of the last two years, the analysts indicated that the quieter ports are a result of a pullback in ordering by retailers that is a result of present conditions. The fall-off in demand comes as inflation continues to be elevated, and the impact of interest rate hikes begin to show up in the everyday economy.

“With economic uncertainty continuing, the impact on trade is clear,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “Year-over-year import volumes have been on the decline at most ports since late last year and declining exports out of China highlight the slowdown in demand for consumer goods.”

Forecasts for the coming months show declines. April and May’s totals are each expected to fall about 23.5% from last year, while a 16% drop is expected in June.

For the first half of the year, the tracker previously projected that ports would take in 10.8 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU). It now forecasts 10.4 million, which would be down 22.8% from the first half of 2022.

“Our view is that imports will remain below recent levels until inflation rates and inventory surpluses are reduced,” Hackett said.

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