Trade Slows at Ports of LA, Long Beach

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Aerial view of the San Pedro Bay Port Complex in California. (Photograph Courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

Aerial view of the San Pedro Bay Port Complex in California. (Photograph Courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach experienced double-digit declines in TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) processed in February. Both California ports cited well-stocked retailers, reduced consumer spending, and the typical closure of east Asian factories during the Lunar New Year holiday, as reasons for the soft cargo volumes.

Port of Los Angeles Chart

February 2023 loaded imports reached 249,407 TEUs at the Port of Los Angeles, dropping 41% from the same month last year. Loaded exports came in at 82,404 TEUs, a 14% fall-off compared with last year. Empty containers landed at 156,035 TEUs, a 54% year-over-year decline.

Two months into 2023, total container volume is at 1,213,860 TEUs vs. 1,723,360 TEUs in 2022, a 30% decline, according to the port.

“February declines were exacerbated by an overall slowdown in global trade, extended Lunar New Year holiday closures in Asia, overstocked warehouses and a shift away from West Coast ports,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a March 17 announcement. “While we expect more cargo crossing our docks in March, volume will likely remain lighter than average in the first half of 2023. We’re using this volume lull to focus on new data and infrastructure initiatives to improve efficiency in preparation for increased throughput.”

At the Port of Long Beach, dockworkers and terminal operators moved 543,675 TEUs last month, down 31.7% from February 2022, which was the port said was its busiest February on record. Imports dropped 34.7% to 254,970 TEUs and exports dipped 5.9% to 110,919 TEUs. Empty containers moving through the port were down 38.3% to 177,787 TEUs.

CONTAINER TRADE IN TEUS: FEBRUARY 2023, Port of Long Beach Chart

“Trade continues to normalize following the record-breaking cargo numbers we saw at the start of last year,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said during a March 14 announcement.

“This traditionally slow time of year provides an opportunity to focus on long-term projects and the operational excellence,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Sharon L. Weissman.

The Port of Long Beach noted that trade typically slows in February as east Asian factories close for up to two weeks as workers celebrate Lunar New Year. “Economists say the year started stronger than anticipated, but shifts in trade routes and increased prices driven by inflation contributed to a decline in shipments as retailers continued to clear warehouses,” according to the port.

“The factors contributing to volume decline at LA/Long Beach are numerous and complex,” Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze told Railway Age earlier this year. “The logisticians that have supported U.S. importers over the past year decided to lower their risks from delayed inbound container cargo by accelerating the pattern change of China-Pacific Ocean to the U.S. West Coast via ships and then via U.S. railroad land-bridge stack trains to instead routing their containers through the Indian Ocean-Suez Canal-Mediterranean Sea-North Atlantic trade lane. Thus, a lot of Chinese cargo bound for the U.S. Midwest and Northeast/Southeast consumption markets now enters the U.S. via the Port of New York & New Jersey or Savannah or Norfolk, instead of LA/Long Beach. The full delivered price to a U.S. importing receiver is about the same, as is total transit time.”   

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