The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports on the U.S. West Coast enjoyed a robust performance in October, marked by a significant surge in imported containers. Los Angeles handled 372,455 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units), representing a 10.7% increase over the previous year. Long Beach, on the other hand, witnessed an even more impressive 23.6% jump to 363,300 TEU. This resurgence is attributed to a shift in preference among holiday cargo owners, who opted for these West Coast ports over their East Coast counterparts.
Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, anticipates a strong November driven by the final holiday push and warehouse replenishment efforts. Mario Cordero, CEO of the Port of Long Beach, echoed this sentiment, noting that import volumes are rebounding as a result of concerted efforts to regain market share. He expects moderate growth to continue throughout the remainder of the year.
A separate October analysis by John McCown, covering the ten largest U.S. container ports, revealed a 2.4% year-on-year increase in import volumes, totaling 1,944,637 TEU. This uptick follows a period of 15 consecutive months of decline. Notably, October import volumes were 8.8% higher than those recorded in the same month in 2019. McCown commented that the recent year-on-year changes are more fundamentally driven by underlying economic activity, marking a departure from earlier comparisons that were influenced by challenging circumstances.
The West Coast outperformed the East and Gulf Coast ports for the third consecutive month, boasting a 12.7% year-on-year increase in import volumes. Conversely, the East and Gulf Coast ports experienced a -5.1% decline. The port of Savannah suffered the most significant setback, with imports down -16.5% year-on-year. Despite this, New York & New Jersey emerged as the top port for container imports, with October throughput just -2.1% below the previous year’s level.
Seroka remarked that the trend of shifting imports from the U.S. West Coast to East Coast ports has reversed. The market share of containerized imports from Asia at the San Pedro Bay ports has increased from 42% to 46% in the past three months. Additionally, he indicated that LA’s container terminals are currently operating at 70% capacity and can readily scale up to meet rising demand.
With the Panama Canal’s draught limit likely to remain unchanged over the next six months, a potential 50% capacity cut by February could encourage U.S. importers to re-consider their options. In such a scenario, they may opt for West Coast gateways or Asia-North America East Coast services via the Suez Canal.