Port of Los Angeles Posts its Best Month Ever for Container Volumes

los angeles port
Image courtesy Port of Los Angeles

Published Sep 17, 2020 9:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Containerized cargo volumes hit a record high at the Port of Los Angeles last month, confirming predictions from retailers and - at least briefly - defying the COVID-19 slump. 

LA's total container volume rose nearly 12 percent, hitting more than 960,000 TEU for the month - an all time high. An 18 percent jump in imports drove the gains, moderated by a 10 percent fall in exports. The numbers reflect a sharp change from previous months, and when taken together, the port now expects that its total yearly volumes will decline by nine percent relative to 2019 - a smaller drop than the previous forecast of 15 percent. 

"August's cargo is more than double the volume we moved in March, when we dropped sharply with the onset of nationwide shutdowns," said port executive director Gene Seroka in a video address. However, he expressed caution on the outlook. “One month, or even one quarter, does not make a trend," he told Reuters. “Our economy remains in a very precarious position."

According to the National Retail Federation, the spike in imports is driven by U.S. retailers restocking after a long lull, along with their preparations for the holiday season. This is reflected in vessel traffic: the port had only one blanked sailing in August, and it does not expect any cancelations on its liner services in September.

Seroka added that the one-way import surge is creating logistical problems on the ground, and the port is working with its partners to find solutions. Earlier in the year, MSC deployed two ultra-large boxships to pick up empties from the LA area and reposition them to markets where they are needed most; widespread container shortages have been reported in Asian markets due to the light levels of export boxes and empties coming back from Western ports on backhaul voyages.