The Data Point
Economists are still duking it out over the question of why inflation fell so much over the past year without much in the way of job losses. But it seems that at least part of the answer can be measured in shipping containers.
In 2023, the physical volume of imports arriving at U.S. ports fell back to roughly pre-pandemic levels, at 28.9 million equivalent units of freight, according to data from Panjiva and S&P Global Market Intelligence. It was the second straight year of decline following the record surge of imports in 2021, which overwhelmed ports and warehouses, leaving lines of container ships idling offshore.
Those boats became some of the most recognizable symbols of the supply chain crisis that helped fuel U.S. inflation. Falling container volumes have allowed that crisis to subside, taking some pressure off prices in the process.
One lesson? Many of the “supply chain” problems that marred the economy in 2021 were the result of Americans going on an unprecedented shopping spree.
“We’ve always characterized the pressure on shipping and ports as being driven primarily by a demand boom rather than an operational failure,” Chris Rogers, who manages the supply chain research team at S&P Global Market Intelligence, told me. “The decline in demand for consumer goods, combined with inventory destocking by retailers, effectively removed all the pressure from ports and shipping firms.”