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Containership berthed at the Port of Los Angeles

Photo courtesy Port of Los Angeles

Port of Los Angeles Keeping a Close Eye on Labor Talks as Cargo Volumes Gain for a Third Month

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2054
June 13, 2023

Cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles increased for the third consecutive month in May but continue to track below pre-pandemic numbers amid protracted West Coast labor negotiations and uncertainty in the economy.

The nation’s busiest container port handled 779,140 TEUs last month, which represents a 60% surge in volumes compared to February’s low water mark and the highest monthly volume since last August. However, May’s volumes mark a 6% decline compared to both pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and the five-year rolling average for the month of May.

In a monthly media briefing, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles Gene Seroka welcomed the positive momentum but noted that a West Coast labor deal and a healthy U.S. economy are key factors for the remainder of 2023.

“Even with improving volume, our terminals are still far from operating at full capacity,” said Gene Seroka during a media briefing on Tuesday. “We’re starting to see more vessels headed across the Pacific to Los Angeles, which is an encouraging sign for the second half of the year.”

In May 2023, loaded imports reached 409,150 TEUs, down 18% compared to May 2022, while loaded exports came in at 101,741 TEUs, marking a decline of 19% compared to last year. Empty containers landed at 268,249 TEUs, reflecting a 22% year-over-year decline.

Year to date, the Port of Los Angeles has handled 3,304,344 TEUs through May, representing a 27% decline compared to the same period in 2022 and 15% below the five-year average.

In his briefing, Seroka addressed impacts from ongoing labor contract talks between the ILWU and PMA, saying that despite the fluid situation the Port of Los Angeles has been able to operate “close to normal” this month and disruption has been minimal.

Today, Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was in San Francisco to urge both sides to come to agreement.

Port of Long Beach

Next door at the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, the Port of Long Beach reported similar numbers for May and expressed optimism in the months of ahead.

Dockworkers and terminal operators there moved 758,225 TEUs last month, down 14.9% from May 2022 but a significant improvement over earlier this year. Cargo throughput in May was up 15.6% from April, which was 8.6% more than March. Although trade declined 14.9% for May year-over-year, cargo moved through the Port was down 20.1% year-over-year in April and 30% in March.

Imports in May decreased 17.2% to 361,661 TEUs and exports increased 8.1% to 127,870 TEUs. Empty containers moved through the Port declined 20% to 268,695 TEUs.

“At mid-year we’re starting to see signs that cargo volume is on the upswing, with our busiest month since August of last year,” said Port of Long Beach Chief Executive Officer Mario Cordero. “We look forward to more positive signs in the months ahead.”

Through the first five months of the year, the Port of Long Beach has moved 3,135,600 TEUs, a 24.8% decrease from the same period in 2022. Loaded imports are down 28% to 1,472,626 TEUs, while loaded exports are up 0.9% to 600,586 TEUs.

“Over the long term, the San Pedro Bay ports complex will continue to be a strategic and sustainable gateway for trans-Pacific trade,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Sharon L. Weissman. “We will work with our industry partners to recapture and grow market share in this increasingly competitive environment.”

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