February U.S. Container Imports Show Strong Growth

February U.S. Container Imports Show Strong Growth

U.S. container import volumes showed continued strong performance in February, surpassing 2019 numbers for the same period. 

While February 2024 volumes decreased 6.0% from January 2024 to 2,137,724 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) (see Figure 1), TEU volume was higher by 23.3% versus February 2023 and up 19.5% from pre-pandemic February 2019.

There are several reasons for the sharp year-over-year increase that could overstate this February’s results. Leap year occurred in 2024, adding one day of capacity in February. In addition, Chinese Lunar New Year occurred on February 11 this year versus January 22 in 2023, so February 2024 saw no impact on U.S. imports from China while February 2023 did. 

To gain more clarity on the year-over-year performance, Descartes analyzed TEU volume for the first 15 days in February of both years where there would be no impact from Chinese Lunar New Year. During this timeframe, the growth in container imports was 13.3%, which is much more representative.

Overall, Figure 1 shows that the first two months of 2024 are more in line with the consumer-fueled pandemic growth.

Source: Descartes Datamyne™

Figure 1: U.S. Container Import Volume Year-over-Year Comparison; Source: Descartes Datamyne™

February port transit times decreased on all coasts with East and Gulf Coast ports still experiencing the longest delays. The economy is still exceeding expectations, which indicates healthy import volumes; however, challenges with the Panama drought, Middle East conflict, and pending ILA contract negotiations at South Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports point to further trade flow disruptions in global shipping.