West coast container imports rose in September as California ports continue to win back business lost when nervous importers rerouted freight flows to Gulf and East coast ports during a series of worker strikes in June.
The warming trend was also fanned by the calendar, as retailers are bulking up their inventory storage levels ahead of the annual winter holiday peak shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).
“Retailers have been hard at work getting holiday inventories in place to provide consumers with great products, competitive prices and convenience at every opportunity,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said at a Monday event. “As we gear up for the holiday season, we expect moderate growth to continue as consumers focus on value and household priorities.”
The shifting numbers could be seen at the Port of Los Angeles, where cargo volume increased for the second consecutive month compared to 2022. The port handled 748,440 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in September, a 5.4% improvement compared to the same period last year.
“September was another good month, with imports up 14% and exports jumping 55%,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a release. “Exports are trending up, and that’s good news because narrowing the trade gap boosts the U.S. economy. Additionally, export jobs on average pay more than work in other segments. With a long-term dockworker contract in place, we’re seeing more cargo shifting back to Los Angeles. The table is set to scale up as demand increases.”
In Los Angeles, September 2023 loaded imports landed at 392,608 TEUs, an increase of 14% compared to the previous year. Loaded exports came in at 120,635 TEUs, an increase of 55% compared to 2022. It was the fourth consecutive month of year-over-year monthly export gains.
Results weren’t quite as good at the nearby Port of Oakland, where imports rose slightly over last year’s numbers, although they stayed flat month over month. Full TEUs rose 1.2% this September compared to September 2022, registering 134,186 TEUs, versus 132,559 TEUs in September 2022. However, they have remained flat compared to August 2023, port officials said. Drilling into the numbers, full exports jumped 9.1% while full imports inched down 4.3%.
Oakland port leaders ascribed the mixed results to a global decline in shipping volumes, saying that shipping rates have declined to very low levels and ocean carriers have begun to alter their schedules, even canceling some trans-Pacific vessel sailings. “The Port of Oakland current container volume is consistent with the leveling off of global container traffic,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said in a release. “Vessel calls to the Port have increased this year, pointing to a slow and steady recovery from the turmoil of the past couple of years.”