U.S.-bound imports hold steady in November, reports Panjiva

The month of November saw continued growth, for United States-bound imports, according to data issued this week by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

The firm reported that total November shipments—at 1,16,7943—rose 20.7% annually, topping November’s 16.8% annual increase, with imports of containerized freight shipments—at 2,668,416 TEU—seeing a 17% annual gain, which was roughly even with November’s 16.8% annual increase. And the year-to-date import tally —at 26.47 million TEU—was in line with the 26.48 million TEU for the same period a year ago.

Panjiva said that these readings suggest that the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic-related reductions in demand is more than completed, and it added that normal seasonal patterns are occurring, down 8.4% from October, which is typically viewed as the highest-volume month of the year, to November.

Not surprisingly, the November shipment gains were again paced by shipments originating out of China, which saw a 30.6% annual gain that was below October’s 33.6% annual gain, with Panjiva observing that tally represents a mixture of ongoing strong consumer and industrial demand. While shipments out of China remained strong, Panjiva said that shipments out of Taiwan and South Korea, while slowing down, turned 9.7% and 22.2% annual increases, respectively.

U.S.-bound shipments of home furnishings and household appliances, out of China, represented annual 39.6% and 17.6% gains, respectively over the course of the peak shipping season, from July 1 through November 30, with household appliances up 65.5% annually in November and home furnishings seeing a 53.8% gain for the same period.

For other product categories, U.S.-bound leisure product shipments were up 39.1%, paced by a late surge in toy shipments and fitness products, according to Panjiva. Consumer product shipments eked out a 0.4% annual gain, on the heels of a 21.4% jump in October, while apparel shipments saw a 14.1% annual gain.

In an interview, Panjiva Research Director Chris Rogers explained that while November imports were below October, the good news is that normal seasonality patterns were in place, with the caveat that December will see somewhat of a pickup, as last-minute orders come in.

“There is really no respite in activity for either November or December,” he said. “Things will stay gummed up in its current form for another few weeks. As we look out to the other side, the Lunar New Year is coming up, and it is a couple of weeks later than last year…and that will keep the pressure on for a little bit as well.”

Addressing the Lunar New Year, Rogers said its later timing will have an effect on import activity, adding that the 2020 Lunar New Year was concurrent with the global COVID-19 pandemic taking hold and its impact really began to spread.

“For the first two months of 2021, year-over-year [shipment and TEU] comps will be very unreliable,” he said. “There is a question of what a widespread vaccine program will do, in terms of things likely not getting back to normal until later in the year.”

When asked what the global trade outlook may look like in the second half of 2021, or later in the year, once most people have been vaccinated, Rogers said it is too early to tell.

“It depends,” he said. “Will people keep buying rubber gloves and masks? But, for 2020, the hectic fall and early winter activity will end up keeping 2020 levels pretty close to 2019. Despite everything that has happened, we are still pretty close in that regard. In 2021, the month-to-month comps will be crazy, because it may be a vaccinated month being compared to a pandemic month. What we may find during the year is that any return to normal shipping patterns and economic activity will not occur until the back year of next year…and people are saying it will not be until 2022 until we are fully back to normal.”

And, in regards to the logistics sector, he noted that once the vaccine is implemented for everyone globally, demand patterns are expected to return to normal, even though supply chain activity will be all over the place, to a large extent.  

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