U.S. West Coast trend continues: Port of Oakland shatters record for peak season cargo volume

Trade policy uncertainty means busiest September for imports in Oakland's 91-year history

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Similar to other West Coast ocean cargo gateways, a record-breaking peak season continues at the Port of Oakland.  The port said today that last month was the busiest September for import cargo in its 91-year history.  That followed another all-time record in August.

The port said it has handled the equivalent of 168,289 20-foot loaded import containers (TEUs) in the past two months.  That breaks the previous August-September record of 158,320 20-foot loaded import containers set back in 2006.  One more month of import growth could give Oakland its busiest peak season in port history.

“We’re encouraged by this outcome and guardedly optimistic that the trend will continue throughout peak season,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll.  “Economic indicators lead us to believe that import volumes should remain healthy.

(That statement was sent to LM shortly before a rocky start in global stock markets got underway. U.S. stocks later in the day fell toward their worst loss in six months ony as technology companies continued to take sharp losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by more than 800 points.) 

Meanwhile, at the Port of Oakland, Exports were down 1.7 percent in September compared to 2017 port spokesmen told LM in an interview.

“That was likely the result of a strong U.S. dollar,” said the port’s communications director, Mike Zampa.  “There is concern, however, that Chinese tariffs on farm products could have an effect on U.S. agricultural exports.”

Spokesmen also noted that “maritime observers” follow cargo volumes closely in the August-through-October period. That’s considered the traditional peak shipping season.  It’s the time of year when U.S. retailers accelerate import orders for holiday merchandising.

The port reported that import volume increased 5 percent last month over September 2017 totals.  August 2018 imports were up 9.2 percent compared to the same month last year, the port added.  Continued strength in the U.S. economy, spurred by consumer spending, is driving the import surge, the port said.

While it’s too soon to project the impact of 2018 tariff increases on cargo from China, tariffs could affect $2 billion in imported goods, the port said.

Total container volume - which includes imports, exports and empty containers – is up 3.4 percent this year, the Port reported.  If the trend holds, Oakland would break its all-time total volume record established in 2017.


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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