United States-bound imports and shipments saw sequential declines and annual gains, for the month of February, according to recently issued by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

Total February U.S.-bound containerized freight imports—at 2,528,809 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units)—were down 5.5% compared to January and up 6.9% annually. And for U.S.-bound shipments, Panjiva reported that February shipments—at 1,234,197—were off 7.7% compared to January and up 17.7% annually. On a year-to-date basis, shipments—at 2,571,891—are up 15.06% compared to the first two months of 2021 and imports—at 5,206,073—are up 2.66%, for the same period.

Panjiva said that when accounting for February having fewer days, imports headed up to 90,315 TEU per day, topping January’s 86,363 TEU per day, which marks a record TEU per day tally, for the month of February, despite the impact of the Lunar New Year in Asia.

“The record imports indicate that logistics networks are still running at full tilt, which could be an indication that supply chains are clearing out backlogs,” noted Panjiva. “The sources of demand for imports have remained relatively unchanged however…but rising inflation could put negative pressure on import demand.”

Panjiva Research Director Eric Oak said in an interview that even though a new February TEU record was set, it is too early to make any broad assumptions about 2022 on balance.

“Import activity was resilient through the Lunar New Year holiday, even with the month-over-month decline,” he said. “There was some Lunar New Year impact, but there were gains, too, which implies that logistics networks are working at full tilt. In the beginning of the year, we said that the Lunar New Year [lull] could help to clear backlogs, and this is an indication that it is happening.”

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

  • energy imports rose 51.5% annually, continuing its strong run of gains over the past six months, which Panjiva said was likely influenced by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and resulted in significant spikes in oil and gas prices;
  • consumer discretionary products headed up 12.7% annually, with Panjiva observing it was likely a catch-up of holiday shipments, as well as companies looking to get a head start on the holiday season; and
  • industrial equipment imports rose 9.9%, with companies expanding operations and making capital purchases;
  • materials decreased 5.1%, a potential forward indicator of demand or a reaction to rising prices of imported goods; and
  • IT imports were down 5.7%, with some positive momentum, as well as an indication that shifts in production and sourcing to compensate for the global ship order remain intact

In a recent interview, Oak said that when looking at current import and shipment trends, 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.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. 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. Contact Jeff Berman

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