The Port of Oakland today said its export container volume rose in October to the highest volume in any single month seen in 2023, thanks to a trend of exporters bringing their business back to the West Coast port after the fading of supply chain congestion caused by pandemic-related disruptions.
Port delays due to labor strikes and covid-mitigation impacts had prompted many shippers to move their business out of California and shift freight flows to Gulf and East coast sites instead. But industry groups like the National Retail Federation (NRF) have recorded a reversal of that shift in recent weeks, since West Coast ports still offer the shortest ocean shipping routes for goods moving from China to the U.S.
“Our port remains the preferred export gateway for fruits, nuts, meats, and grains since we are the closest to agricultural areas in the Central Valley,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said in a release. “We also offer the fastest transit times to Asia since we are the last port of call in the US before ships go back across the Pacific.”
The port’s number of full export TEUs (twenty-foot containers) rose 4% during October 2023 compared to October 2022, with a volume of 68,974 TEUs. However, Oakland’s full imports were down 8% in October 2023 compared to October 2022, stabilizing at around 70,000 TEUs per month as national consumer spending has declined from the heights it reached during the pandemic.
“Import growth is expected to remain flat as traffic continues to stabilize after the significant spikes we saw during the pandemic years. Shipping rates remain low and carriers are signaling that will remain well into 2024,” Brandes said.
Over on the Gulf Coast, Port Houston said it also broke a record for loaded exports in October, but that facility was moving bulk goods primarily consisting of resins and chemicals. Port Houston is the top resins port in the nation as well as home to North America’s largest petrochemical cluster.
October was the biggest month ever for loaded exports at the site, up 6% compared to last October. Port Houston’s loaded exports are up 10% year-to-date, reaching 1,151,638 TEUs for 2023 through October. But in a similar pattern to Oakland, Port Houston said its loaded import volumes were well above pre-pandemic levels, but had slumped from the covid era’s dizzying peak levels. Those volumes were down 4% compared to last October and down 7% for the year to date as compared to last year.
Editor's note: This article was revised on November 17 to add results for Port Houston.