Cargo Volumes Dip at Southern California Ports Despite Strong Outlook

Port of Los Angeles
Container volumes declined at California's two large port in May (Port of Los Angeles)

Published Jun 13, 2024 4:32 PM by The Maritime Executive


Container volumes moving at the Southern California ports dipped in May despite an overall positive trend and positive outlook. While many U.S. ports reported strong growth in volumes both Los Angeles and Long Beach reported monthly declines after a string of monthly year-over-year gains and bucking the trend which saw the overall U.S. trade gap widening in May.

Announcing a decline of over eight percent for total container volumes in May, the Port of Long Beach said “shifting trade routes and canceled voyages led to a decline in cargo.” Imports slid 4.5 percent to 345,271 TEUs while exports decreased 21.1 percent to 100,885 TEUs, for a total of 695,937 TEU in May. The port has been under 700,000 TEU for four of the first five months of 2024 but it came after a strong 750,424 TEU in April.

“I am confident we will see additional cargo as we work with industry partners to rebuild our market share in this increasingly competitive environment,” said Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero.

The neighboring Port of Long Beach similarly reported an approximately three percent decline in total volumes versus May 2023 to just under 753,000 TEU. Imports were off five percent in May 2023 while the port’s executive director Gene Seroka said the results were “in line with projections,” and emphasized the consistent performance of the past few months. 

The one strong spot was in exports at the Port of Los Angeles which reached a new milestone of 12 consecutive months of year-over-year gains. Exports were up 24 percent in May to nearly 126,000 loaded TEU with Seroka emphasizing they were working with the agricultural community and others to continue the growth.

While forecasts including the National Retail Federation are calling for continued cargo volume growth, the Port of Los Angeles projected June would be consistent with volume “in the mid to upper 700s TEUs.” While they see it as consistent, they expect unlike 2023 when volumes peaked in June 2023, the outlook is for continued growth.

“As we gear up for the second half of the year, our forecast indicates more robust activity on our docks throughout the summer,” said Seroka.

The Port of Long Beach’s CEO Cordero said “I anticipate a moderate increase in cargo as we move into summer.”

For the first five months of 2024, the Port of Los Angeles’ volume is up 18 percent to 3.9 million TEU. It is below the peak levels when the port surpassed 10 million TEU. Similarly, the Port of Long Beach is up 10 percent so far in 2024 having moved more than 3.4 million TEU.

The West Coast ports continue to work to recover volume as the markets softened after the pandemic and experienced labor uncertainties. A year after settling its longshore contracts the Socal ports highlight that they are well positioned. After volumes shifted to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast during the labor uncertainty, the ports may see a reversal after the International Longshoremen’s Association suspended talks on a U.S. East Coast labor contract. They have threatened a strike if there is no agreement by the expiration of the contract on September 30. 2024.