Port Report: East Coast notches first-half growth for box imports

Date: Friday, August 16, 2019
Source: American Shipper

West Coast imports slow due to service changes and market downturn

Container volumes into U.S. ports slowed through the first half of 2019 due to the overhang from last year’s push to bring in containers ahead of tariffs and the uncertain economic outlook.

Thanks to the trade war with China, trans-Pacific import volumes took the biggest hit.  

The 10 largest U.S. ports by throughput reported loaded imports of 9.96 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the six-month period ending June 30. The year-to-date total represents a growth rate of 2.1 percent.

The West Coast ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach, Seattle-Tacoma and Oakland saw container imports of 5.24 million TEUs from January through June, a 1.8 percent drop over the same period in 2018. 

The Port of Long Beach saw the largest slowdown in container imports, with year-to-date inbound volume of 1.81 million TEUs, a 9 percent decline from the same period in 2018. July saw another month of declining imports into the second-largest port in the U.S. 

Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero said the on-again, off-again tariff fight with China is “hitting the West Coast pretty hard.” 

Monthly loaded imports into the Long Beach/Los Angeles gateway (SONAR: IMPTEU.USLAX)

The uncertain trade outlook is forcing some ocean carriers to cut services. Ocean Network Express (ONE) said it reduced service frequencies on 12 Asia-to-North America routes, including service to Long Beach’s Pier G. ONE is expected to add back services by September, just in time for peak season.

Other carriers are looking at temporary measures such as skipping port calls in a bid to reduce service capacity. U.K.-based container ship researcher PR News Service said the OCEAN Alliance, the largest container shipping alliance in the trans-Pacific market, plans two blanked sailings for Asia-to-U.S. West Coast routes by the end of August.   

Neighboring Los Angeles also saw slight growth in import numbers over the first six months of 2019. Total imports of 2.26 million TEUs were up only 1.8 percent from the same period in 2018.

Ports to the north are seeing better growth but off of smaller totals. The Northwest Seaport Alliance reported import growth of 4 percent in the first six months of 2019, reaching 692,318 TEUs for the Seattle-Tacoma ports. Oakland’s import levels during the first half of 2019 were 474,143 TEUs, up 3 percent from the year-earlier period.

On the East Coast, total imports were 4.72 million TEUs during the first six months of 2019, a 6.8 percent increase from the year-earlier period. 

Southeast and Gulf Coast ports led the growth. Savannah’s 1.075 million TEUs in imports for the first half marked an 8.5 percent increase from a year earlier. Port Houston’s import total of 604,787 TEUs during the first half represented an 8.9 percent increase.

Monthly loaded imports into Savannah (SONAR: IMPTEU.USSAV)

Charleston and Virginia saw import volumes rise about 7 percent through the first half of 2019. Meanwhile, New York-New Jersey saw inbound volumes of 1.846 million TEUs in the first half, representing a 5 percent increase in the first half. 

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