Los Angeles and Long Beach Container Imports Are Declining

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Since 2009, September imports into the Port of Los Angeles haven’t been as low as reported by Freight Waves.

Declining demand

Due to American businesses shipping in their year-end holiday merchandise, September is often a favorable month for West Coast imports. Unlikely in 2022.

In the midst of the Great Recession, the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday reported its lowest import total for September since 2009. The day prior, the nearby Port of Long Beach reported its lowest September import total since 2016.

Due to merchants shifting cargo to ports on the East and Gulf coasts out of concern for disruptions from West Coast port labor negotiations, imports into Southern California ports are rapidly declining. Meanwhile, countrywide volumes are already declining as a result of declining demand.

Holiday imports ‘dropped precipitously’

“In the month of September is where the real story lies,” explained Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, during a news conference on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, imports of durable goods bought heavily during the pandemic — furniture, appliances, etc. —

Think toys and games, clothing, footwear, and other products.

Those holiday gift items dropped precipitously compared to last September, mainly because they came in earlier.

“This year our peak season was in June and July, as savvy importers moved up the arrival of these goods to bring some certainty back to when they could get to market.”

LA September imports down 15% vs. August

709,873 twenty-foot equivalent units totaled throughput at the Port of Los Angeles in September, a decline of 21.5% year over year (y/y). Exports totaled 77,680 TEUS, up 2.6% year over year, while empties were 288,731 TEUs, down 19.8% year over year.

Only 343,462 TEUs of loaded imports were made to Los Angeles, a decline of 26.6% year over year. Following a 16.7% decline in August compared to July, imports decreased 15.1% sequentially versus August.

In May, imports into Los Angeles grew to their highest level of the year. Imports in September decreased by 31.3% from August. The U.S. was experiencing COVID-19 lockdowns in May 2020, and September’s imports were the lowest for any month since then.

Long Beach September imports down 11% vs. August

In September, the Port of Long Beach reported a total throughput of 741,823 TEUs, a decrease of 0.9% year over year. Exports were 112,940 TEUs, up 1.9% year over year, and empties reached 286,212 TEUs, up 7% year over year.

In September, Long Beach handled 342,671 TEUs of imports, a decrease of 10.9% from August and a decline of 7.4% year over year. Similar to Los Angeles, Long Beach saw its annual import surge in May. September’s value was 27.5% below the peak. Since June 2020, monthly imports have not been as low.

Mario Cordero, the executive director of the Port of Long Beach, attributed the decrease in imports to consumer and retail fears about inflation, which “led to warehouses loaded with inventory and fewer product orders from Asia.”

Fewer ships being worked at berths

During the supply chain crisis, attention was drawn to the enormous number of container ships that were anchored or waiting offshore for berths in Los Angeles or Long Beach. According to data from the Marine Exchange of Southern California, the number of waiting container ships has steadily decreased this year, from a peak of 109 on January 9 to just four on Wednesday, the lowest number since October 2020.

The Marine Exchange also keeps track of how many cargo ships are docked in each of the two ports. This information also reveals a significant, more recent alteration.

As the supply problem worsened, there were frequently more than 30 ships docked at the two ports each day. A daily average of 28.8 container vessels came alongside Los Angeles and Long Beach between August 2021 and February 2022.

The numbers, however, have dropped to considerably lower levels in recent weeks. 19 ships were alongside on average from September 1 through Tuesday, a decrease of roughly 30% from peak levels. On Tuesday, 18 ships were berthed in the ports. On September 12, there were only 10 ships anchored nearby.

This is approaching pre-COVID levels. In the entire year of 2019, there were 14.8 ships on average berthed at the ports’ berths per day.

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Source: Freight Waves

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