Market Overview

A Bar Too High?

A Bar Too High?

Cargo volumes were up for a fifth consecutive month in August in the Port of Los Angeles, with the port handling 861,081 TEU of containerized cargo, 4.2% more than in August 2018.

The increase was due to strong import volumes and movements of empty containers offsetting declines in exports.

August 2019 imports increased 4.1% to 437,613 TEUs compared to the previous year. Exports decreased 10% to 146,284 TEUs, the 10th consecutive monthly decline in exports. Empty containers increased 13.8% to 277,183 TEUs. 

Gene Seroka, the port's executive director, attributed the increase to "global supply chain relationships, aggressive marketing and improvements in operational efficiencies."

Such year-over-year improvements seem unlikely for the remainder of 2019, however. Seroka noted "The final months of 2018 ended with an extraordinary influx of imports to beat expected tariffs on China-origin goods. We don't expect to see those kinds of volumes in the months ahead. We need a negotiated settlement of the U.S.-China trade war to restore global trade stability."

At the neighboring Port of Long Beach, volumes totaled 663,992 TEU in August 2019, down 2.3% from August 2018. Still, the port noted last month was the fifth busiest August in the port's history.

The decline reflected a 5.9% decrease in loaded inbound containers, a 4.5% increase in loaded outbound containers, and a 0.3% decrease in empty containers. In the first 11 months of the Port of Long Beach's fiscal year, which ends September 30, container volumes were down 3.6% to about 7.3 million TEU, reflecting a 4.9% drop in inbound and an 8.6% decrease in outbound containers. 

Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said, "These results are strong for any North American seaport, but lag behind our record-high numbers last year, when retailers shipped goods to beat expected tariffs. We are still on track for one of our busiest years ever and our focus remains on delivering efficiency and reliability as we await the swift resolution of the U.S.-China trade dispute."

Speaking to the Los Angeles City Council last week, Seroka noted that the port had handled nearly 9.7 million TEU in the fiscal year ending June 30, despite what he called the "ill-advised trade debate" by the Trump administration with China.

"For the first time in my memory in this industry we are facing a 360 degree trade negotiation," he said, not only because of the trade war with China, but also unfinished trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

He said the trade dispute with China was resulting in higher prices not only for consumers, but also industry, with the result that companies are doing less hiring and capital investment. 

Seroka said the port had expected that "if China was to be lessened in their global impact on world trade then other countries would be looked at for sourcing of materials and finished goods."

That prediction was born out in trade statistics he presented to the council. In the first half of this year for the San Pedro Bay complex—the combined Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach–container imports from China were down 9.6% while imports from other countries rose 9%. 

"About half the cargo that we import are parts and components that go into the U.S. manufacturing stream," said Seroka. "That is exactly the type of industry this administration has been trying to build up and that has not gone well."

Exports to China through the two San Pedro Bay ports were down 22% compared to a 1.1% drop in exports to all countries. 

"Because of retaliatory tariffs and other policies, the American exporter has been harmed irreparably," said Seroka. He pointed to steep declines in a variety of exports: agricultural and forestry commodities such as soybeans and grain, fruit, logs and lumber; recyclables such as scrap metal; and heavy machinery, including automobiles. 

Seroka showed slides indicating big increases this year in imports from Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and exports to Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Cambodia and Indonesia through the two ports.

"Unfortunately it is going to take seven Vietnams to make up for the loss of cargo in China due to these policies," said Seroka.

He said more than a million people in Southern California have jobs related to the ports and that Los Angeles County has 390,000 manufacturing jobs, many of which rely on international trade.

Asked for how his concerns could translate into action, Seroka suggested the City of Los Angeles and the port "need to start knocking on doors together, amplifying this message" in Washington.

Image Sourced from Pixabay


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