Port of Los Angeles sees 43% drop in February container volumes

Written by Nick Blenkey
Port of Los Angeles director comments on falling container volumes

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “While we expect more cargo moving crossing our docks in March, volume will likely remain lighter than average in the first half of 2023.”

Plunging February container volumes at the Port of Los Angeles underscore the point that container shipping giants such as Maersk made in making their forecasts for 2023: booms don’t go on forever.

The port processed 487,846 TEU of containers in February, a 43% decrease from the previous February’s all-time record.

“February declines were exacerbated by an overall slowdown in global trade, extended Lunar New Year holiday closures in Asia, overstocked warehouses and a shift away from West Coast ports,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “While we expect more cargo moving crossing our docks in March, volume will likely remain lighter than average in the first half of 2023.

“We’re using this volume lull to focus on new data and infrastructure initiatives to improve efficiency in preparation for increased throughput,” Seroka added.

February 2023 loaded imports reached 249,407 TEUs, down 41% compared to the previous year. Loaded exports came in at 82,404 TEUs, a decline of 14% compared to last year. Empty containers landed at 156,035 TEUs, a 54% year-over-year decline.

Two months into 2023, total container volume is at 1,213,860 TEUs compared to 1,723,360 TEUs in 2022, a 30% decline.

How do the numbers stack up in a historical context? You can see current and historical cargo data, including fiscal year-end totals, for the Port of Los Angeles HERE.

Seroka’s point about a trade shift away from West Coast ports will be a trend to watch over the coming months. Alternate gateways have been making strides, including the Port of Savannah.

Citing information from logistics data provider PIERS, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) reported last week that it now handles one out of every 8.8 loaded twenty-foot equivalent container units in the U.S., its highest national market share ever.

The Port of Savannah moved 11.4% of the nation’s loaded international containers for FY2023 through December, with more than 2 million TEUs. GPA’s share of the U.S. container trade constituted an increase of 0.7%, equating to nearly 120,000 TEUs more than it would have moved at its previous market share.

“Our global economy is facing headwinds, but Georgia’s deepwater ports continue to deliver dependable performance to keep business thriving,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “As the nation’s top gateway for American farm and factory exports, the Port of Savannah serves as a hub for global commerce, linking every major ocean carrier calling the U.S. East Coast with superior connections to road and rail.”

Georgia Ports boosted its portion of U.S. container exports to 12.3% over the period spanning July through December 2022 – up 0.4% compared to the same period in the previous year. Savannah’s share of the import market rose nearly three-quarters of a point to 11.1 percent for the fiscal year to date through December.

Still, GPA, too, saw a fall in February container volumes compared with 2022. This February, the Port of Savannah moved 395,000 TEU of containers. Though this was its second busiest February, in February 2022 GPA moved 460,400 TEU.

Inflation, rising interest rates and high warehouse inventories are important factors in the container trade dip, port officials said.

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