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The M/V Wan Hai 362 departs the Port of Long Beach, California. Picture taken in September 2023. Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

The M/V Wan Hai 362 departs the Port of Long Beach, California. Picture taken in September 2023. Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

Trade Up at San Pedro Ports as Cargo Returns

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2469
December 14, 2023

Trade is up again at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as shippers continued to reposition cargo back to the U.S. West Coast, port officials announced Wednesday.

The Port of Long Beach is marking its third consecutive month of trade growth. In November, dockworkers and terminal operators there moved a total of 731,033 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), marking a significant 24.2% increase compared to November 2022. Import volumes rose by 37% to reach 355,339 TEUs, while exports experienced a decline of 13% to 108,798 TEUs. The movement of empty containers through the port also saw a substantial increase, up by 30.6% to 266,896 TEUs.

However, looking at sequential months, November’s total volumes represented the third month of falling volumes and a nearly 12% from September when the Port of Long Beach experienced its busiest month of 2023.

“We are recapturing market share, online shopping is on the rise and retailers are keeping the shelves stocked to meet rising consumer demand for the holidays,” said Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero. “We remain optimistic as cargo returns to this critical gateway for trans-Pacific trade.”

Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles is reporting its fourth consecutive month of trade growth in November. The port processed 763,262 TEUs in November, a 19% improvement compared to last year. Loaded imports landed at 384,619 TEUs, an increase of 25% compared to the previous year, while loaded exports came in at 111,755 TEUs, an increase of 24% compared to 2022. Empty containers totaled 266,888 TEUs, a 10% increase compared to last year. 

“Our year-end growth reflects the strength of the U.S. economy powered by the American consumer,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said at a media briefing. “Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were strong, and the forecast for overall holiday sales is 3 to 4% above last year, another high mark.”

“Thanks to the outstanding efforts of our dockworkers and other stakeholders, we’ve gained market share in recent months… We’ll continue those efforts into 2024 as we work toward maximizing our operational efficiencies and decarbonizing our port complex,” Seroka added.

The shift back to the U.S. West Coast was also highlighted by Descartes in its latest U.S. imports report as drought-induced restrictions in the Panama Canal hit East and Gulf Coast port volumes. The report, which showed an overall 7.4% yoy increase in U.S. imports in November, highlights that the top five West Coast ports increased their import container volume share to 43% in November, while the top five East and Gulf Coast ports decreased to 42%.

Long Beach Harbor Commission President Bobby Olvera Jr. thanked waterfront workers and terminal operators for their work in moving goods this holiday season. “We plan to continue delivering top-notch customer service and building for a sustainable future into the new year,” said Olvera.

Year-to-date volumes at both San Pedro ports trail last year’s volumes, due primarily to a busy first half of last year as the pandemic imports surge continued. Rather, volumes are more in-line with levels seen before the pandemic in 2019.

The Port of Long Beach has handled a total of 7,308,848 TEUs during the first 11 months of 2023, representing a 14.9% decrease compared to the same period last year. However, cargo flows this year have remained relatively consistent with pre-pandemic levels when the port moved over 6.96 million TEUs through November 2019.

Eleven months into 2023, the Port of Los Angeles has processed 7,887,162 TEUs, 14% less than the same period last year.

According to the National Retail Federation, imports at major U.S. container ports are projected to continue to slowdown in the remaining weeks of 2023 after peaking later than expected this fall.

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