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Los Angeles Gains Container Traffic as Long Beach Sees Declines

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San Pedro Bay and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-09-12 19:21:00

For the fifth month in a row, the Port of Los Angeles has broken a single-month containerized cargo record. In April, May, June, July and August, the port posted numbers better than those achieved in the same period in any of the past 111 years. 

In August, the Port of LA moved 860,000 TEU, up four percentage points over August 2018. Port executive director Gene Seroka chalked the high traffic levels up to the port's own performance. “Our strong volume growth this year is due in part to our global supply chain relationships, aggressive marketing and improvements in operational efficiencies,” he said. He also pointed to the port's new digital logistics planning platform, a joint project with GE Transportation that it calls Port Optimizer. This cloud-based software system integrates data about vessel status, terminal status, chassis availability and container status into one single channel for multiple stakeholders. 

However, Seroka warned that demand for the port's services will likely be affected by new American tariffs on Chinese-made goods. “The final months of 2018 ended with an extraordinary influx of imports to beat expected tariffs on China-origin goods,” Seroka said.  “We don’t expect to see those kind of volumes in the months ahead.  We need a negotiated settlement of the U.S.-China trade war to restore global trade stability.”

So long as the transpacific trade war does not prove too disruptive, the Port of Los Angeles may be on its way to another record year. Last year was its all-time best for TEU volume, and 2019 has been nearly six percent better year-over-year for the January-August period. 

At the adjacent Port of Long Beach, port volumes continue to lag last year's performance.  About 660,000 TEU were handled in August, about two percent less than a year ago. Imports slid six percent, exports rose 4.5 percent and empties stayed approximately level. For the first eight months of 2019, Long Beach's volumes are down by about six percent relative to last year's record levels. 

“These results are strong for any North American seaport, but lag behind our record high numbers last year, when retailers shipped goods to beat expected tariffs,” said Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero in a statement. “We are still on track for one of our busiest years ever and our focus remains on delivering efficiency and reliability as we await the swift resolution of the U.S.-China trade dispute.”