SoCal Ports Report Strong November Volumes Beating Forecasts

Los Angeles port
Southern California's ports experienced continue strong volume gains as container traffic rebounds (Port of Los Angeles)

Published Dec 13, 2023 10:51 PM by The Maritime Executive


South California’s twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach both reported November volumes today, December 13, showing strong growth as they continued to defy previous expectations and the overall belief that container shipping is in a downward cycle. The West Coast ports highlighted the continuing strength of U.S. consumer spending helping to drive volumes as the ports returned to pre-pandemic levels showing growth from 2019 levels.

“We are recapturing market share, online shopping is on the rise, and retailers are keeping the shelves stocked to meet rising consumer demand for the holidays,” said Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero. He highlights that shippers continued to reposition cargo back to West Coast seaports in November, lifting trade for a third consecutive month at the port.

Long Beach reported a better than 24 percent increase in volume in November compared to the year-ago period to a total exceeding 731,000 TEU. The port’s strong results were driven by a 37 percent increase in imports versus last year, while exports were however down 13 percent.

“Our year-end growth reflects the strength of the U.S. economy powered by the American consumer,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said during his monthly update. The port experienced its fourth consecutive month of year-over-year gains in volume.

Los Angeles reported a 19 percent improvement compared to last year for its total volume, exceeding 763,000 TEU. It also experienced strong imports with the volume up 25 percent over 2022. The port also achieved its sixth consecutive monthly gain in exports which Seroka highlighted as a significant boost for volumes from Los Angeles. Export volume was up 24 percent.

Both ports also highlighted that they remain optimistic after having clawed back much of the volume declines experienced early this year. Los Angeles for example cited it has reduced by more than half its volume decline for the year versus the levels at the end of the first quarter of 2023. Los Angeles has moved year-to-date 7.9 million TEUs while neighboring Long Beach has handled more than 7.3 million TEUs in 2023.

Significantly both ports also highlighted strong growth in the movement of empty containers with Los Angeles reporting it was the first year-on-year growth for empties in 16 months. The growth in empties is being perceived as carriers repositioning equipment to prepare for anticipated demand in 2024. Empties volume was up 10 percent at the Port of Los Angeles in November while it was up 30 percent at the Port of Long Beach.

While there are uncertainties for 2024, both ports have a positive outlook. Analysts have forecast that the West Coast ports are likely to experience gains as shippers divert volume to avoid significant delays due to the limitations on the number of transits at the Panama Canal. The U.S. East Coast and Gulf ports are also entering into longshore workers’ contract negotiations for 2024 which could have a similar impact on volumes as the 2022-2023 West Coast labor negotiations had on volumes. While not expecting the surge in volume experienced in 2021 and 2022, Los Angeles and Long Beach however look for continuing gains in 2024 as cargo volumes from the Pacific trade continue to return to Southern California.