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AUGUST 10, 2022 / 8:04AM / Marketwatch


The nation’s largest ports handled more volume this year than through the same time period last year, a sign the supply chain challenges that wreaked havoc on consumers and retailers during the pandemic still haven’t let up. But there are signs port congestion is shifting from west to east and could even ease overall thanks to consumers slowing their shopping habits.

Total TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), which is a way to gauge overall port activity, recorded for this year through June, was 26.4 million compared to 25.1 million for the same time period in 2021. Despite the high level of activity over the past several months, experts anticipate fewer containers to be passing through ports come fall, as consumers continue to pull back amid higher prices and concerns about the economy.

Container volume exploded in 2021, with the nine largest U.S. ports handling 50.5 million containers compared to 43.4 million in 2020 and 43.7 in 2019. That increase of 16.3% created enough congestion at ports that port officials took action to mitigate the crowding like increasing operating hours at the ports or proposing fees for containers left at ports for extended time periods.

The high volume at the ports is the result of a change in shopping behavior during early days of the pandemic. Americans used extra cash from coronavirus relief to buy more goods. The sudden increase in demand exposed the precarity of the supply chain and how changes in one area could ripple across the rest of the system, said Brandon Roberts, head of carriers at Dray Alliance, which facilitates the movement of containers from ports via drayage.

Companies shifted the ports they’re using to ship their goods for a number of reasons, according to Paul Brashier, vice president of drayage and intermodal at logistics company ITS. Those include concern over labor shortages and the threat of strikes from the International Longshoreman Workers Union (ILWU). Long dwell times at major West Coast ports have also made East Coast ports more attractive.


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