Containerized cargo declined last month in L.A., grew slightly in Oakland and spiked in Long Beach as East Coast captures market share.
Container throughput at the ports of Los Angeles and Oakland was weak in July, in marked contrast to the Port of Long Beach and overall growth nationwide.
The numbers reflect the continuing pull of Asian import cargo from traditional West Coast gateways to the East Coast.
The Port of Los Angeles, the largest U.S. container terminal, said Friday that box volumes fell 2.5 percent last month to 699,127 TEUs compared to July 2014. Exports dropped 16.4 percent to 136,402 standard shipping units, while imports decreased 3.5 percent to 350,627 TEUs. Combined total loaded containers decreased 7.5 percent to 487,029 TEUs. The decreases were offset by 11.2 percent growth in handling of empty containers.
Year-to-date volume in Los Angeles is down 3.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
The Oakland port authority on Friday said containerized cargo volume inched up 1 percent in July, with import growth of 8.7 percent year-over-year. Imports have risen five consecutive months in Oakland compared to the same period in 2014. The port handled 1 percent more export cargo last month – the first monthly improvement in Oakland’s exports this year.
The Port of Oakland moved 9 percent fewer empty boxes than it did a year ago.
The recovery in Oakland from the labor strife that sharply reduced port productivity in January and February at West Coast ports has been slowed by a shortage of longshoremen. Some ships waited 36 hours last month for a berth. In recent, weeks, additional dockworkers have joined the labor pool and helped decrease the backlog of vessels, the port authority said.
Box volumes in Oakland plummeted 30 percent in the first two months of 2015. In June, volume dipped 1 percent. For the first seven months of the year, the port has handled 6.3 percent fewer containers than a year ago.
Long Beach, which sits adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles, last week reported that its terminals achieved an 18.4 percent increase in container volumes in July. Overall, the port handled 690,244 TEUs. Import volumes were up 16.2 percent to 345,912 TEUs and exports grew 15.9 percent to 143,875 TEUs, despite currency headwinds.
The Port of Long Beach has moved 4 million TEUs so far this year or 2.8 percent more than the first seven months of 2014.
Import volumes grew an estimated 6 percent in July to 1.59 million TEUs at a dozen major U.S. ports, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker published by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
For the first half of the year, import volumes at the nation’s major ports are up 6.5 percent to 8.9 million TEUs from the same period in 2014.
Ports on the East Coast and Gulf, by contrast, are enjoying large increases in container volumes. The difference reflects a shift in port preferences by shippers, who have permanently shifted some of their import cargo deliveries from the West Coast because of lingering concerns about ongoing congestion and potential labor disruptions. Instead, cargo owners are using all-water transportation to reach markets in the eastern half of the country. The ports of New York/New Jersey and Norfolk have suffered some of their own congestion problems as a result of the cargo surge over the past year, but southeastern ports have been able to absorb the extra business without much service deterioration – to the satisfaction of shippers.
Research firm Zepol last month released data showing that total containerized imports at East Coast increased by 15 percent during the first half of the year, while traffic on the West Coast fell 4 percent. Most of the growth represents cargo from China.