an overhead view of port of los angeles docks

Photo courtesy Port of Los Angeles

Port of Los Angeles Calls for More Cargo as Fluidity Improves

Mike Schuler
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August 17, 2022

The nation’s top port for containers is out with some big numbers again today.

The Port of Los Angeles reported preliminary July figures showing an estimated 935,345 TEU crossed its docks last month, outpacing the previous record set in 2019 by 2.5%. The Port of Los Angeles has now set monthly records in five of seven months in 2022.

Compared to July 2021, July 2022 volumes were up about 5%.

With cargo “velocity” improving, Los Angeles is hoping to get back some of the business it lost to East and Gulf Coast ports this year, causing congestion in places like New York, Savannah, and Houston.

“Remarkably, we continue to move record amounts of cargo while working down the backlog of ships almost 90%, a huge accomplishment by all of our partners,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said at news briefing on Wednesday. “Even with the current rail challenges, our marine terminals are more fluid than last year. That’s due in part to our Port Optimizer data portal that allows our stakeholders to see around corners and tackle problems before they arise.”

July’s loaded imports reached an estimated 485,472 TEU, an increase of 3.4% compared to July 2021 and 8% higher than the previous five-year average for July.

Loaded exports reached an estimated 103,497 TEUs, a 13% increase compared to the same period last year. Empty containers, which need to be repositioned to Asia, reached an estimated 346,376 TEUs, up 5% compared to last year.

Seven months into 2022, the Port of Los Angeles has moved an estimated 6,349,248 TEUs, on pace with the record set last year.

While the Port of Los Angeles is still working to finalize July’s volumes, the final numbers are expected to change only slightly compared to what was reported today.

As for the San Pedro Bay backup, the number currently stood at just 13 containerships as of today, down from its peak of 109 set in early January.

July’s record comes as shippers have shifted some inbound cargo to East and Gulf Coast ports to avoid congestion and potential issues arising from West Coast port labor negotiations. But Seroka says the situation in Southern California is improving, while deteriorating in other parts of the country.

“Our terminals have capacity,” Seroka said. “For cargo owners looking to re-chart their course, come to Los Angeles. We’re ready to help.”

A big part of this improvement can be credited to long-dwelling containers waiting for trucks, Seroka said. “We’re down to about 2,000 containers waiting 9+ days for trucks versus more than 32,000 last October,” he said.

Next door at the Port of Long Beach, it also reported its most active July on record despite a “cooldown” in consumer spending. Total throughput there was boosted by rising empty export containers, offsetting a year-over-year 1.8% decline in imports in July.

Looking ahead, the National Retail Federation is forecasting that containerized imports will start to slow in August and continue to slow for the remainder of the year, reflecting an overall slowing of the economy and inflationary pressure. Nevertheless, nationwide cargo volumes in 2022 should still see a net gain over 2021’s record as many retailers brought in cargo early.

Seroka hit on this slowdown in his monthly media briefing.

“Imports will begin to ease somewhat. I expect to see that reflected in our August cargo numbers,” said Seroka. “China factory orders just reported were slowing and some U.S. retailers continue to state they have elevated inventories. Yet, July retail sales out just this morning are flat which is good news. It appears that U.S. consumers are using money saved from falling gas prices to spend on other goods.”

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