Another container shortage?

Could a new shortage of containers for U.S. exports be emerging? One steamship executive thinks so.

Last year before exports started to tank in the third quarter, container shortages in the U.S. were widespread. After exports started plunging last fall, containers suddenly became available but many were quickly repositioned back to Asia on ships no longer packed to capacity with export cargo.

There is no shortage of containers in Asia, where terminals and surrounding areas are literally flooded with idled empties. I spoke with a senior executive with an Asian carrier this week who said that a box shortage in the U.S. could be resurfacing. He cited two main reasons, neither of them driven by demand from exporters, who are still experiencing significant weakness in overseas demand for their products.

The reasons he cited are that imports are way down, meaning there are far fewer containers flowing into the U.S. to begin with, and the fact that importers are selling merchandise a lot more slowly. They are only slowly inducting imported merchandise into their internal distribution systems, so in many cases they are asking for, and receiving, more container free time from their carriers, keeping containers for days or weeks on DC lots.

“There are equipment shortages for the exports, in around Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, a little bit in the PNW,” the executive said. “It is creating some hardships in the system.”

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