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5 Factors That Have Affected Inbound and Outbound Container Traffic at U.S. Ports in the First Half of 2024

The first half of the year has been lively in terms of container traffic across the U.S.

Several factors, such as geopolitical ones and economic volatility, have affected the cargo flows in both imports and exports. Top U.S. ports have yielded increases in the number of TEUs handled, and that is also giving us some clues on how things are going to continue in the remainder of the year.

The key items affecting the traffic in the first half of the year are below.

1. Availability of Empty Containers for Exports

The availability of empty containers for exports has been a steady issue, partly due to higher import demand compared to exports. Shippers have really been affected by the scarcity of empty containers from time to time and carriers have had to offer rolling shipments for the reason of not being able to release shipments. These occasional challenges in securing empty containers may not be seen to play a key role, but they are affecting the number of TEUs handled eventually.

2. Competing with China and E.U. Countries in Exports

The U.S., China, and E.U. countries are primary players in global exports, all are with different strengths and leverages. China is leading manufacturing and has been improving in exporting technology products, while Europe exports a wide range of goods and services considering they benefit from strong trade agreements. In such an environment, any potential increase in U.S. export cargo traffic may have been hit in the first half by its competitors despite being well-known in areas as pharmaceuticals, and mainly in agricultural goods, etc.

3. Market Dynamics on the Export Side

Certain sectors have shown resilience in exporting goods by sea freight. The sectors benefiting from strong international demand and strategic market positioning have contributed affirmatively to outbound container movements. The same effect can be expected for the second half of the year with the global economic reopening and increased demand.

4. Volume Growth Driven by Strong Consumer Demand in Import Side

Consumer demand in the U.S. has remained strong, and steadily increased. Cost and affordability are the most basic reason that imports may offer competitive prices compared to domestically produced goods. This leads retailers to lean on importing to make sure they have enough goods to meet demand.

5. Global Supply Chain Disruptions

Since vessel traffic was re-routed through the Cape of Good Hope after Houthi attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea and water restrictions at the Panama Canal disrupted global trade, the cargo flow of both imports and exports have been affected in many ways. As the diversions have increased transit time, the potential increase and acceleration of cargo flow at U.S. ports has not reached its optimal level.

In conclusion, while the first half of the year has brought serious challenges such as port congestion and supply chain disruptions worldwide, the chance of recovery and growth in U.S. container traffic remains assuring for the future.

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