Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

U.S. Imports Decline Accelerates in November, Led By ‘Staggering’ Drop for West Coast Ports -Report

Mike Schuler
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December 21, 2022

Imports through the top ten container ports in the U.S. marked the largest overall monthly decline since the financial crisis and likely the largest single month contraction ever, according to industry veteran John McCown.

Inbound volumes dropped a whopping 17.5% year over year in November led by a “staggering” 26% decline for West Coast ports—quite possibly the biggest decline ever for the West Coast, McCown says in his monthly U.S. ports report.

Out of the top ten container ports, only Port Houston was immune to year over year declines in November. The Port of New York and New Jersey again ranked as the top U.S. port for import volumes—for its fourth month straight. Seattle/Tacoma, Long Beach and Los Angeles were the worst performers last month, while Houston, Savannah and New York performed the best.

November now marks the third consecutive month of rapidly expanding year over year declines that began in September and have only gotten worse, as the 17.5% drop marks an acceleration from October’s -10.3% and September’s -5.3% year over year drops.

“With congestion at ports now effectively over, the monthly container volume figure returns to being a pulse of overall economic activity,” McCown says.

The good news, if there is any, is McCown’s reminder that year over year comparisons this year need to be taken with a grain of salt. Compared with pre-pandemic times in 2019, November’s inbound volumes were up 3.9% over to the same month three years ago, for a CAGR of 1.3%, “suggesting that current volume is now somewhat in line but slightly below where it would have been absent the pandemic,” says McCown.

There’s more good news (or glimmer of hope?) if you look at pricing. The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) and Container Trades Statistics (CTS) index, which McCown contends are the best for tracking shipping pricing, are up 36.1% and 127.6%, respectively, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, McCown points out. That is, the sky is not falling yet for container shipping.

“Quite a few articles recently have let narrative get well ahead of analysis of facts,” McCown says.

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