Even as talk of an economic downturn continues, US imports have shown surprising resilience this year. Containerized import volumes in October rose nearly 4% over last year, reaching pre-pandemic highs.
Volumes Continue an Upward Trend
The US imported 2.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containerized goods in October, according to data from Descartes Systems Group. This represents a 4.7% increase over September volumes and an 11.5% rise compared to October 2019, before the pandemic impacted trade.
Imports from China led the growth, totaling 886,842 TEUs in October – the highest monthly volume from China since August 2022. Overall, import volumes have climbed 33% since bottoming out in February. Aside from pandemic-driven spikes in 2020 and 2021, this was the third highest October on record for US imports.
Year-to-Date Figures Also Strong
Imports for the first 10 months of 2022 demonstrate similar strength. Total TEUs imported so far this year are up 3.4% over the same period in 2019, before the pandemic disrupted supply chains. Volumes have also exceeded pre-pandemic levels for 2018 and 2017 by 4.4% and 11.8%, respectively.
Consumers Drive Demand Despite Inflation
The continued appetite for imported goods highlights the resilience of the American consumer. Despite high inflation and economic fears, consumer spending has remained robust enough to fuel strong import demand.
Retailers appear confident that consumers will continue opening their wallets, as evidenced by the ongoing inflow of consumer products from overseas. This rising demand has helped counter expectations of a trade slowdown.
Trans-Pacific Shipping Rates Stabilize
Alongside elevated import volumes, trans-Pacific container rates have stabilized compared to recent volatility. Spot rates from Shanghai to Los Angeles stood at $2,175 per FEU last week, according to the Drewry World Container Index.
This represents a 20% discount compared to 2018, when tariffs temporarily inflated rates. It is also 38% higher than in 2019, before the pandemic disrupted logistics networks. Rates remain well above 2017 levels as well.
The combination of strong import volumes and steady container rates paints a more positive picture of US trade than many predictions about an impending downturn. For now, imports show little sign of the slump that many anticipate.
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