U.S. West Coast ports report mixed message for first quarter

While Long Beach had record volumes in March, LA and Oakland had lull

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The Port of Long Beach has completed its best ever first quarter, with marine terminals handling almost 1.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) January through March. The quick start is 19.4 percent more than the first quarter of 2017, the Port’s busiest year ever.

The previous first quarter record was set in 2007. 

Meanwhile, the San Pedro Bay neighboring Port of Los Angeles, reported a “disappointing” month.

March throughput at Long Beach reached 575,258 TEUs, an increase of 13.8 percent compared to the same month last year. 

Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. noted that the surge in box throughput jumped despite the shipping slowdown during the Lunar New Year holiday in China.

“We are handling record levels of cargo with no delays,” he added.

Dockworkers moved 267,824 import TEUs in March, 7.3 percent more than a year ago. Exports grew 18.3 percent to 142,419 TEUs. The large number of imported goods demanded by American consumers meant container ships hauled 165,015 empty TEUs overseas to be refilled.

At the same time, The Port of Los Angeles processed 577,865 TEUs in March, a decrease of 27 percent compared to last  year.

“We’re comparing our numbers to an extraordinary 29 percent volume gain last March so a decline is not unexpected,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka.

Port spokesman, Phillip Sanfield told LM in an interview that the Lunar New Year holiday celebrated in Asia may have had an impact.

“Lunar New Year timing and voided sailings could have changed things,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait to see if this month was an aberration, or signals a trend.”

March 2018 imports dropped 29.2 percent to 264,460 TEUs compared to the previous year. Exports fell 14.6 percent to 163,706 TEUs while empty containers dropped 33 percent to 149,699 TEUs. Combined, March overall volumes were 577,865, a 27 percent decline compared to 2017.

California’s third largest ocean cargo gateway – the Port of Oakland – also noted that import volume dipped last month while export growth flattened during a seasonal lull in containerized trade.

The port added that March imports declined 1.9 percent compared to March 2017.  Exports were essentially flat – down just 0.5 percent.

Similar to LA, the port of Oakland port attributed declining import volume to post-Lunar New Year holidays in Asia, observing that shipments traditionally slump as factories that produce many U.S.-bound goods temporarily shut down.

Oakland exports remained virtually unchanged after three consecutive months of growth. The port  said China’s restrictions on recyclable commodities such as waste paper contributed to the export growth pause.   

Port of Long Beach spokesmen gave another reason for its success month: an outreach effort to Asian shippers:

“Our business development trips are bringing us more trade activity,” said Harbor Commission President Lou Anne Bynum. “We see favorable responses during our visits with our overseas partners. We’re pleased to be off to a great start in 2018 following a successful 2017 for us and our industry partners.”


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [ protected]

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