Ocean shipping: Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach volumes are mixed

Compared to a year ago, volumes are down overall at both ports.

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While the economic recovery remains paused, June volumes at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were mixed.

POLB imports, which are primarily comprised of consumer goods, hit 271,113 (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) in June, which was up 3.5 percent annually. This was up down from May’s 275,100 and April’s 270,107. POLB Exports, which are primarily comprised of raw materials, were up 9.0 percent at 126,588, behind May’s 130,161 and April’s 270,107. 

Total POLB shipments for June were 554,269, which were 6.6 percent of last year’s pace, and empties at 156,568 were up 10.3 percent. For the fiscal year-to-date, POLB shipments are at 4,662,810, a 12.0 percent increase over 2010.

POLB spokesman Art Wong told LM that while these numbers look good, they are largely down compared to a year ago at this time, which saw annual gains around 20 percent.

“Maintaining those comparisons into this year was unsustainable so hopefully it will get to a point where we have sustainable [growth] numbers between 5 and ten percent,” said Wong. “There is still enough uncertainty in the economy with high unemployment and the weak housing market that the numbers will look OK one month and weaker another.

He added that the POLB is happy to see both positive import and export numbers, but the range it is seeing for June on the import side are roughly where it has been in recent months, while exports have been in the same range most of the year. Wong also noted there is a little more caution than in recent months, though, as to where the economy may be heading.

POLA imports—at 333,894 TEU—were down 10.22 percent year-over-year and slightly behind May’s 360,969 and ahead of April’s 312,359 TEU. Exports—at 161,137—were up 5.55 percent and behind May and April, which hit 184,274 and 167,448 TEU, respectively.

Empties were down 29.48 percent at 143,763, and for the calendar year-to-date shipments are up 2.83 percent at 3,767,227.

As Wong at the POLB said, the 2010 peak season came earlier last year, and POLA Director of Communications Philip Sanfield told LM that was evident in these numbers.

“Our imports are down for the first time in a long time,” said POLA Director of Communications Philip Sanfield. “In 2010, we had an incredible June, July, and August, which was up about 30 percent. It is not surprising we could not sustain those numbers. On the export side, imports being down 10 percent and empties near 30 percent is what drove that. Given this early peak season surge last year, it is not a surprise to us that 2011 volumes are not exceeding 2010. It is looking like this year will be a return to a more normal and traditional peak season in August and September.”

What’s more, Sanfield said he expects July and August to be relatively flat compared to last summer’s early surge.

And he said that the port moves a lot of heavy weighted commodity exports like grain and corn, which contributes to the decline in empty container volumes, as when these heavy exports are shipped out, a container can only be filled half-way and leaves less room for the empties.

Lower imports in recent months have also made for less available empties to send back to Asia, said Sanfield.

On the retail side, Sanfield noted it appears that inventories are still high and there does not seem to be a replenishment need at this point, given relatively flat retail sales numbers.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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