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Container vessel approaching the terminal at the Port of Savannah, Georgia

Container vessel approaching the terminal at the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Photo credit: Ungureanu Catalina Oana /

U.S. Inbound Containers Surge to Start 2024

The Loadstar
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April 22, 2024

By Gavin van Marle (The Loadstar) –

The main US ports enjoyed another stellar month in March, according to new figures from noted analyst John McCown

His figures show imports at the country’s ten largest gateways grew nearly 20% year on year.

These ports handle 86% of US import traffic and, although the growth of 19.2% in inbound containers compared with March 2023 was less marked than February’s 26.5% year-on-year growth, it testifies to the continuing strength of the world’s largest economy.

Mr McCown wrote: “The strong 19.2% increase in March underscores that we are seeing exceptional strength in inbound volumes, regardless of the timing impact of the Chinese New Year.

“The clearest way to see this is the trailing three-month figure that has inbound volumes up 17.8% compared with last year. That is strong.

“Most importantly, underlying economic activity drives it, as we are past periods where the comparisons are impacted materially by the pandemic.”

Total import volumes in the US last month amounted to a shade under 1.82m teu and, for the first time in seven months, saw a turnaround in the fortunes for ports in the east and Gulf coasts, which grew 21.9%, compared with the 16.2% growth at the west coast and outperformed their Pacific coast rivals.

Los Angeles remained the country’s most important import gateway, handling just under 380,000 teu, growing slightly below the market, at 18.6%. New York & New Jersey was second, with 343,000 teu and growth of 19.6%, with Long Beach third, with 302,500 teu and showing the slowest growth of the top 10 ports, at 8.4%.

The fastest-growing port, however, was Oakland, which saw year-on-year volumes jump 38.4%, to 83,500 teu handled last month.

Meanwhile, US exports also continued their upward trajectory, growing 7.6% year on year to reach 930,500 teu in a month that saw Los Angeles overtake Houston as the country’s leading export port.

LA handled 144,718 teu in exports, a 47.3% year-on-year leap, while Houston handled 134,221 teu, a more moderate growth of 12%.

However, it was a much more mixed performance at some of the other main ports – with, for example, Long Beach down 21.3% on March 2023 and Norfolk and Charleston essentially flat in exports.

And, in terms of a five-year period, comparing last month with pre-pandemic March 2019, the strongest growth was seen at Houston, with Seattle/Tacoma as the US laggard.

Mr McCown wrote: “For example, in a comparison of imports, Houston showed an annual growth rate of 8.5%, followed by Los Angeles at 5%. In contrast, Seattle/Tacoma had a negative annual rate of 4.5%.

“Comparing this March to March 2019, Seattle/Tacoma had 20.7% less inbound containers and 31.1% less outbound containers,” he said.

The Loadstar is known at the highest levels of logistics and supply chain management as one of the best sources of influential analysis and commentary.

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