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Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

Port of LA Sees Record Cargo Surge in June

The volume of cargo containers moved by dockworkers and terminal operators at the San Pedro Bay ports complex continues to surpass last year’s records by double digits.

In June, the Port of Los Angeles processed 82 container vessels carrying 876,430 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, of cargo. That marks the busiest June in the port’s 114-year history and a 26.8% increase compared to June 2020.

“The past 12 months have been like the peak season on auto-repeat,” Port of L.A. Executive Director Gene Seroka said during a video press conference on July 14. “Berth productivity remains 50% higher than it was last June, and that’s been consistent throughout the surge. We are working on average 15 vessels every day, (compared to a pre-pandemic volume of) 10 vessels that came to the harbor each day,” he added. 

Imports totaled 467,763 TEUs last month, an increase of 26.7% compared to June 2020. 

“It continues to be clear that the U.S. consumer spending remains strong, and even with the return of the service sector spend — like travel, restaurants  and ball games — retail sales and ecommerce remain robust,” Seroka said. “Conversely exports were really weak — less than 100,000 TEUs for the month, and unfortunately that’s the lowest export number we’ve seen in Los Angeles since 2005.”

Empty containers surged 47% compared to June 2020, reaching 312,600 TEUs. 

“The trade continues to be a one-way street — we are handling a lot of imports, not enough exports, and there are way too many empties going back,” he said. The cargo outlook at the Port of L.A. remains solid for the remainder of the year, with back-to-school, fall fashion, Halloween and other seasonal items making their way in. The port also expects some merchants will begin bringing their holiday merchandise earlier than usual. Seroka estimated that the port will finish 2021 with container volume in the range of 10.5 million TEUs. 

When it comes to cargo backup, it’s a mixed bag.

 About half of the ships headed to the port went straight to anchor, down from 90% in February and 65% in April. Vessels also idled at anchor for an average of five days, down from 7.9 days in March. However, terminal and on-dock rail dwell time averaged 4.6 and 11.7 days, respectively, about the same as during the surge peak in February.

“This is a source of significant concern across the supply chain, and with warehouses filled to the rafters, street dwell time ran as high as eight days in June,” Seroka said. “The bottom line on this is the continued surge has strained all nodes of the U.S. supply chain, and we must change these trends.”

Port of Long Beach processed 724,297 TEUs in June, up 20.3% from the same month last year. Imports were up 18.8% to 357,101 TEUs while exports added up to 116,947, about the same as in June 2020. The volume of empty containers headed back overseas increased 36% to 250,249 TEUs.

Fewer ships called at the Port of Long Beach “due to shifting services and a Covid-19 outbreak at the Yantian port in China that resulted in some vessels delaying arrivals until July,” according to Port of Long Beach officials. 

“We’re optimistic that this is shaping up to be one of our busiest years on record as we continue to overcome the challenges related to Covid-19,” Long Beach Harbor Commission President Frank Colonna said in a statement. “We will continue to collaborate with our waterfront workers and industry partners to move cargo quickly and efficiently through the supply chain during this time of ongoing economic recovery.” 

Demand for household products, electronics and other goods contributed to a 38.5% increase in cargo shipments to 4.8 million TEUs during the first half of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Port of Los Angeles notched a 44% uptick to 5.4 million TEUs year over year.

Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino covers retail, manufacturing and the ports. She can be emailed here.

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