Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

Empties Lift Port of Long Beach to New July Record as Imports Fall

Mike Schuler
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August 9, 2022

The Port of Long Beach reported July throughput numbers on Tuesday, showing its most active July on record despite a “cooldown” in consumer spending.

Dockworkers and terminal operators at the port moved 785,843 TEU in July, a slim 0.13% increase from the previous record set in July 2021.

Total throughput was boosted by rising empty export containers, offsetting a year-over-year imports decline. Imports fell 1.8% to 376,175 TEUs, while empty containers moved through the port rose 2.8% to 300,257 TEUs. Exports were down 0.5% to 109,411 TEUs.

Looking by month, July’s numbers came in about 6% below June, which capped the port’s strongest quarter on record in Q2 2022, marking two consecutive quarters of record setting cargo volumes despite headwinds from inflation and fears of a looming recession.

“We are continuing to seek solutions to improve efficiency as a record-breaking number of containers move through the Port,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “We hope to relieve some of the stress points by continuing to support a transition of the entire supply chain to 24/7 operations and ensuring our industry partners can track containers with our new Supply Chain Information Highway data solution.”

With July’s final numbers in, the Port of Long Beach has now broken monthly records in six out of the last seven months. Year-to-date, cargo volumes are up 4.6% compared to the same period in 2021, when the Port of Long Beach handled record cargo volumes of more than 9.3 million TEU.

“Our waterfront workforce continues to ensure trade moves through the Port at a record-setting pace,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Sharon L. Weissman. “We continue to strengthen our partnerships with labor and industry to ensure our spot as a leader in trans-Pacific trade.”

The National Retail Federation said Monday it expects 2022 container imports into United States to surpass 2021 despite a “significant” slowdown over the remainder of the year.

Many retailers this year have brought in cargo early and shifted to East and Gulf Coast ports to avoid any potential disruptions related to ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and employers at West Coast ports. The NRF is predicting the slowdown to start in August and continue through the remainder of the year before deepening in 2023.

This West to East cargo shift has knocked the Port of Long Beach out of second place in the rankings of top U.S. container ports as Long Beach’s volumes now trail behind the Port of New York and New Jersey, which has not yet reported July numbers. The Port of Savannah has also been a benificiary of this shift, with the port reporting an 18% surge in cargo volumes in July compared to 2021.

Unfortunately, the shift has also contributed to growing backups on the East Coast, with most ships now arriving late. On the other hand, Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles backups have eased considerably from January’s peak, but with 25 ships still waiting in the queue as of Monday, they aren’t out of the woods yet.

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