I've been watching a slow incremental rise in container ship traffic for a few months now, and this week the nation has noticed it too. Amazon has been having an unusual spike in shipping delays- last minute delays, in fact, with long-lead items... and this is where my laziness coupled with a certain intellectual rustiness has left me unable to form a clear picture in my mind of what is happening in my business right now.
So I'm going to speak off the cuff on trends, and what I see, and all three of you who read this can make of that what you will, and bear in mind that free information like this is worth what you paid for it.
All the major container ports in the US are experiencing delays, but throughput appears relatively normal, (though perhaps slightly off the maximum efficiency experienced in the past year or two because of shitty governance given the lockdown kabuki). China is by all accounts operating at pre-covid efficiency and throughput there is at highs and at times record highs. Demand for goods seems to have recovered. Ship traffic is... seasonally appropriate, I guess. Oil and cruise traffic is in the toilet still, so I don't know what I'm looking at. For my own part, we're looking at steady business, although we still are feeling the burn of lost business from the cruise and oil trade, although a cold winter could certainly mean an extra ship or two a day just in NY/NJ for the heating oil trade, which will be a blessing, sort of. Anchorage jobs with ships in the winter are uncomfortable jobs for yours truly. Small volumes, a lot of delays, and a lot of arguing.
So, have our ports recovered from Covid? Sorta. Local restrictions are still messing with things, by all appearances, but the presence of anchored container ships coupled with steady throughput suggests that demand is driving this spike... but what about the season? The Christmas rush is a real thing in container ports, and it's late for that by a few weeks. I thought that October's increase in traffic was a combination of things returning to normal and wholesalers starting to stock up on inventory for the holidays. That, along with November's ramp up on traffic and ships simply being more FULL (it's pretty easy to see the difference in a full vs. partially loaded container ship), suggests that we're doing better and the seasonal rush is happening, albeit delayed slightly. So what's driving that? I'm not sure, myself. Perhaps late orders, and also perhaps differences in shipping efficiencies pre- and post-covid, too. Shippers formed some alliances to weather their own problems in the past few years, and some for Covid, too. So I don't know what I'm seeing, given that. I'm optimistic, though.