January Volumes Up at Ports of LA, Long Beach

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(Photograph Courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles)

(Photograph Courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles)

Trade moving through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rose in January as retailers stocked up ahead of the Lunar New Year, when east Asian factories typically close for up to two weeks.

The Port of Los Angeles handled 855,652 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) last month, surpassing January 2023 by 18%. According to the Port, this was the second-best start to the year on record; it was eclipsed only by the pandemic-induced cargo surge in 2022. January 2024 loaded imports came in at 441,763 TEUs, up 19% from the prior-year period. Loaded exports landed at 126,554 TEUs, up 23% from the same month last year. The Port processed 287,336 empty containers, a 14% rise over 2023.

At the Port of Long Beach, dockworkers and terminal operators moved 674,015 TEUs in January, up 17.5% from the same point last year. While imports increased 23.5% to 325,339 TEUs, exports were down 18.1% to 86,525 TEUs. Empty containers moving through the Port increased 28% to 262,151 TEUs.

The strong start to 2024 marked the Port of Los Angeles’ sixth consecutive month of year-over-year (y/y) increases, following 12 months of declines in cargo movement, and the Port of Long Beach’s fifth consecutive month of y/y increases, after 13 months of declines.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka attributed the boost in cargo to two factors. “First, cargo owners have been replenishing inventories and moving goods at a fast clip ahead of the [Feb. 10] Lunar New Year holiday, which will slow production in Asia,” he said on Feb. 14. “Second, consumer spending and mostly strong economic data continue to accelerate the American economy.” Last season’s holiday sales grew nearly 4%, “with strong job growth and other key indicators trending in a positive direction,” according to Seroka.

“Retailers stocked their warehouses in January ahead of the slower import activity we typically see during Lunar New Year celebrations,” Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero reported Feb. 14. He added that the Port is “ready to grow our volumes” and hopes to see “continued growth through 2024 as we gradually recapture market share.”

(Photograph Courtesy of the Port of Long Beach)

The Port of Los Angeles finished 2023 handling 8,634,497 TEUs, about 13% less than the prior year. Trade declined in most categories at ports worldwide, yet the Port of Los Angeles said it “retained its position as the nation’s busiest container port for the 24th consecutive year.”

The Port of Long Beach closed 2023 with 8,018,668 TEUs moved, down 12.2% from 2022 and slightly ahead of pre-pandemic levels reported in 2019, according to the Port. Cordero said during his State of the Port address last month that the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles together averaged 1 million TEUs per month in 2023, and by the end of the decade are expected to average 2 million TEUs per month.

Both ports highlighted infrastructure improvement projects in their January 2024 State of the Port presentations. In the coming year, the Port of Los Angeles is slated to accelerate its green hydrogen plans, bolstered by the announcement last fall of up to $300 million in federal grants funding for development of “hydrogen hub” operations in the San Pedro Bay port complex, and work will continue on roadway, rail, and site design for the $195 million Terminal Island Maritime Support Facility, among other projects. The Port of Long Beach’s Cordero called 2024 “The Year of Rail,” reporting that construction will soon start on the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility project, which will help speed cargo movement, make the Port more competitive, and improve the environment for nearby communities. Pier B is primarily operated by Pacific Harbor Line, an Anacostia Rail Holdings (ARH) subsidiary that provides rail transportation, maintenance and dispatching services for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and serves BNSF and Union Pacific

In a related development, ARH on Jan. 31 released two new reports examining the feasibility and benefits of rail service operating to an inland port for intermodal containers destined within 150 miles of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Port of Los Angeles hosted a briefing on Feb. 14. Executive Director Gene Seroka was joined by California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who spotlighted the need for infrastructure and sustainability investments in California’s ports and freight system.
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