US import deluge exams provide chain
Newark (United States) (AFP) – Throngs of 18-wheelers are the clearest signal of brisk exercise on the Port Newark-Elizabeth marine terminals in northern New Jersey, defying speak of a US financial slowdown.
Final week, the Port of New York and New Jersey reported that its June 2022 volumes had been the second-highest in historical past, capping a torrid semester that has overtaken the primary half of the record-setting 2021 12 months by 11.4 %.
“Volumes proceed to be extraordinarily robust,” mentioned Michael Bozza, assistant director of economic growth on the Port of New York and New Jersey, who nonetheless expects a moderation in exercise later in 2022, partly attributable to inflation.
Bozza mentioned warehouses, freight rail and different provide chain nodes stay “burdened” and are at or close to capability. A few of the cargo is being held for later within the 12 months as importers shift from a “simply in time” technique to “simply in case,” he mentioned.
A key report Thursday might present the US economic system technically entered recession final quarter. However the nation’s ports inform a unique story.
“Are we seeing an economic system that is screeching to a halt? No, we aren’t,” mentioned Phil Levy, chief economist of Flexport, a freight forwarding firm. “We’re seeing continued imports. We’re seeing continued consumption.”
That persistent deluge of imports — which can be taking part in out at different key US container ports similar to Los Angeles and Savannah, Georgia — is one cause logistics specialists stay cautious in regards to the state of the US provide chain, although ports not face the backlogs of final fall.
New issues generally floor rapidly, as was the case final week, when protests from truckers over a newly carried out California legislation successfully halted deliveries on the Port of Oakland, one other of the nation’s bigger container ports.
Regular operation has since resumed, however the incident underscores the brittle state of play for overtaxed US infrastructure through the pandemic.
“There’s not lots of slack within the system when one thing goes incorrect,” mentioned Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell College in North Carolina.
“Whereas the economic system is slowing and inflation is rising, persons are nonetheless shopping for rather a lot.”
Worries in america in regards to the provide chain hit a peak final fall when dozens of stalled vessels of the Ports of Los Angeles and Lengthy Seashore sparked worries of a spartan vacation season.
These fears proved overwrought. To safe merchandise, retailers took extraordinary measures, making better use of air cargo and in some instances chartering their very own vessels to maintain retailer cabinets full.
Most main ports not have huge backlogs, however there are different issues within the system.
Gene Seroka, government director of the Port of Los Angeles, just lately highlighted freight rail delays as a fear. He pointed to an extra of some 20,000 rail containers caught on the power.
“We should take motion on this instantly to keep away from a nationwide logjam,” Seroka mentioned two weeks in the past.
Not less than a part of the issue in rail transport stems from workers cutbacks at freight rail firms similar to CSX and Union Pacific within the years instantly previous the pandemic.
“The rail is a giant piece of why issues are nonetheless snarled up,” mentioned Jason Miller, a provide chain administration professor at Michigan State College, who notes that general freight rail employment is about 40,000 under its stage in 2016.
The unresolved state of labor talks between rail firms and rail employee unions additionally provides unease. The 2 sides have been unable to achieve an accord on a contract to supervise wages, well being care and dealing circumstances.
On July 15, President Joe Biden blocked a freight railroad strike for not less than 60 days, signing an government order to determine an arbitration system to resolve the battle.
One other excellent labor concern is the contract for West Coast longshoremen, which expired on the finish of June. Once more, there was no strike as the 2 sides proceed negotiations.
East Coast ports similar to New York and others within the Gulf Coast have picked up incremental enterprise from shippers anxious about strike threat, in addition to a repeat of final fall’s travails in Los Angeles and Lengthy Seashore.
Bozza estimates that about seventy % of the New York and New Jersey port’s new volumes in 2022 is displaced cargo from the West Coast.
Regardless of these points, Miller doesn’t anticipate a repeat of final fall’s disaster, saying, “We’re in a greater place than we had been eight or 9 months in the past.”
“There’s lots of uncertainty over simply how a lot spending energy the US client has this vacation season,” mentioned Miller, who pointed to China’s zero-tolerance Covid-19 coverage as one other huge provide chain wildcard.
However Levy of Flexport notes that port supply instances, whereas enhancing, are nonetheless operating for much longer than within the pre-pandemic interval.
“We’re nonetheless experiencing ample provide chain difficulties,” Levy mentioned. “Recently, we have seen ports do higher and rail do worse.”
© 2022 AFP