Ports Begin 2024 on High Note


Both Los Angeles ports have enjoyed strong starts to the year, with each posting about an 18% year-over-year gain in cargo handled in January.

The Port of Los Angeles processed 855,652 TEUs – 20-foot equivalent units, the standard measurement of container cargo – in January, while the Port of Long Beach handled 674,015 TEUs. These were increases, respectively, from 726,013 TEUs and 573,772 TEUs in January 2023.

Increases were driven by imports, which have grown consistently since the labor agreement between dockworkers and shipping companies was reached in June. This time last year, cargo numbers began a lull, largely because of protracted labor negotiations. Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of L.A., also pointed to a strong U.S. economy.

“For example, 2023 holiday sales grew by 3.8% year over year, hitting an all-time record high of $964 billion in sales,” Seroka said during his monthly media briefing on Feb. 14. “Powered by increased consumer spending, our nation’s GDP grew by a strong 3.3% in the fourth quarter, surpassing Wall Street’s expectation of a 2% gain. With exceptional job growth in January – 353,000 new jobs added – retailers and manufacturers are gearing up for more spending by Americans.”

Broken down, the Port of L.A. handled 441,763 import TEUs, a 19% increase from last year. With 126,554 TEUs exported, it was the facility’s eighth straight month of rising exports, which Seroka hailed as “a welcome rebound after more than two years of very low export volume.” Meanwhile, in Long Beach, dockworkers handled 325,339 import TEUs and 86,525 export TEUs. The remaining difference for each port represents empty containers.

For the Port of L.A., it was the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year increases; in Long Beach, it was the fifth consecutive month.

Executives from both ports noted that January imports typically dwarf February and sometimes March on account of the Lunar New Year holiday; customarily, Chinese factories manufacture goods ahead of schedule to allow workers to take several weeks off for the festivities.

“Retailers stocked their warehouses in January ahead of the slower import activity we typically see during Lunar New Year celebrations,” Mario Cordero, chief executive at the Port of Long Beach, said in a statement. “We are ready to grow our volumes and hope to see continued growth through 2024 as we gradually recapture market share.”

Still, in spite of the predicted decline in imports for February, Seroka predicted the first quarter of this year would outpace last year’s by as much as 20%. Depending on how shippers make their rerouting decisions, this could be impacted by ongoing issues in shipping channels worldwide. Drought conditions continue to affect the Panama Canal’s operations, and piracy carried out in the Red Sea by the militant Houthis persists.

However, Seroka noted that the Panama Canal has a rail system that has helped bypass water supply problems there; he added that Red Sea traffic primarily affects cargo destined for Europe.

“The impact has been limited, at least so far,” he added. “That could change as shippers weigh a host of factors in those regions.”

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