The nation’s two largest seaports saw mixed performances in December, ending a wildly erratic year on the U.S. West Coast on a mostly flat note.
The neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reported combined December import volume that was just 0.7% greater than the same month in 2014 and 0.6% more than December 2013.
The muted close to the year came as broad U.S. trade figures are slipping and shipping volumes suggest companies are slowing down investment. Many of the nation’s ports, including L.A., reported weak volume during the traditionally-busy months leading into the holiday season, which analysts have attributed to overly high inventory levels among retailers and manufacturers.
The Port of Long Beach, second to Los Angeles in U.S. container volume, said imports were up 7% over December 2014 to 296,002 20-foot equivalent units, a standard measure for container cargo. Exports fell 4.1% in December to 126,118 TEUs compared to the same period in 2014.
For the year, total container volume at Long Beach was up 5.4%, a strong performance in a year where congestion clogged the Southern California ports for months—driving volumes far below their usual levels in January and February. Congestion hit shippers as early as December of 2014, which may have contributed to the port’s strong year-over-year growth for those months in 2015.
The Port of Long Beach handled a total of 7,192,066 TEUs in 2015 with imports up 3.1% and exports down 4.9%.
Analysts have attributed the decline in exports to weak foreign markets for U.S. goods and the persistent strength of the dollar.
Next door, the Port of Los Angeles reported that import containers declined 4.5% in December to 321,407 TEUs from the year before, while exports fell 13.7% to 131,239 TEUs. The L.A. port said in a statement that one of its cargo terminals was offline during December and that contributed to the decline. The port also welcomed the largest container ship ever to dock on U.S. shores in December.
Overall, Los Angeles volumes were down 2.1% to 8,160,457 TEUs for 2015. Executive Director Gene Seroka attributed the decline to the congestion in the early part of the year.
In a “State of the Port” speech in Los Angeles Thursday, Mr. Seroka said the port lost out on an estimated 400,000 containers during the congestion, or roughly 30 ship sailings.
By: Erica E. Phillips