After a period of dominance by East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, the momentum has shifted back to the West Coast. Imports from Asia are starting to head back to America’s Pacific gateways, with the West Coast regaining some lost ground.
There are a few factors driving this shift. First, the labor issue on the West Coast has been resolved. Second, Panama Canal water levels are restricting capacity utilization on transiting container ships bound for East and Gulf Coast ports. Third, spot rate data and import data both suggest that the West Coast is regaining market share.
Spot rates to the West Coast have held up better than rates to the East Coast, with the West Coast route retaining much more of the peak-season rate run-up. Import volume trends also suggest that the West Coast is gaining ground, with inbound volume at the top East and Gulf Coast ports falling 13.4% year-over-year (y/y) in September, while West Coast volumes rose 16.7%.
The nascent reversal of fortunes in the West Coast market is apparent in the latest monthly stats of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Long Beach posted its best September ever in terms of overall throughput, with imports up 19.3% y/y. Los Angeles’ imports rose 14.3% y/y.
Overall, the outlook for West Coast ports is positive, with imports expected to remain healthy through the fourth quarter. With more cargo coming back to the West Coast, the West Coast is getting back to where it was in terms of coastal market share prior to the port labor negotiations.