The Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Sept. 14, reported that August saw its strongest monthly cargo volumes of all time, echoing similarly encouraging stats the Long Beach port released the week before..
The Port of Los Angeles saw 961,833 twenty-foot equivalent units in August. (TEUs are a universal standard for cargo measurement, though most containers today are 40 feet.)
The 12% increase was driven by imports, which eclipsed 500,000 for the first time. It was the first time since August 2019 the port had a monthly cargo increase compared to the corresponding time in the previous year. July, for example, saw an approximately 6% decrease compared to July 2019 — and a trend that has remained consistent since September of last year.
But in a live video presentation, Los Angeles Port Executive Director Gene Seroka cautioned that much uncertainty still lies ahead as the economy continues to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
While August’s volumes were the strongest monthly showing in the port’s nearly 100-year history, they came amid an environment that has seen overall cargo, year to date, decrease by 11.7% when compared to 2019.
Still, the news was welcome as all eyes turn toward the upcoming holiday season and how the U.S. economy will fare after months of lockdowns, layoffs and restrained spending.
The twin ports typically see their largest cargo numbers from August through October as retailers prepare for holiday shoppers. This year, the surge in August shipments also reflected the move to replenish store products that have dwindled, with the pandemic keeping people at home and spending less than they normally do.
“Signal,” a new data tracker, also is now online at the port’s website, which provides a three-week look at cargo coming into Los Angeles. It is updated daily.
Jonathan Gold, vice president of the National Retail Federation, joined Seroka at the press conference and said his organization’s global port tracker indicates a strong end of the year, though he added things could “cool off” in the last couple months of 2020.
But, he added, consumer confidence and an increase already in holiday sales are being seen.
“Halloween is going to look very different this year,” he said, “but consumers are still finding ways to celebrate; folks are looking at more at-home activities.”
The biggest question going forward, Gold said, remains the pandemic.
“It’s the ongoing unknown,” he said. “That remains the biggest uncertainty, where the pandemic and the virus is in the fall and what happens after that. Everybody’s trying to plan as best they can without knowing what the future holds.”
Seroka added that money that has not been spent on ball games, movies and travel now gives consumers more retail dollars. Studies, in fact, indicate people are spending more on retail items, he said.
The back-to-school season, for example, saw higher spending in home-school materials, including electronics. Fourth of July retail sales also were up, Seroka said.
“Consumers have more disposable income because they’re not traveling,” Seroka said.
But he also added a caveat.
“Obviously, there’s still high unemployment,” Seroka said, “and Congress needs to get back and pass another COVID relief bill.”
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The Port of Long Beach also reported its best August in that port’s history, with 725,610 twenty-foot equivalent units of container cargo coming through. It marked a 9.3% increase compared to August 2019.
Long Beach Port Executive Director Mario Cordero also cautioned that international trade and the national economy, in light of the ongoing pandemic, remain uncertain.
And Seroka noted that just a few months ago, in May, the Port of Los Angeles saw its lowest container volumes in more than a decade.
Still, the news was a bright spot in what has been a tough year for both ports. The effect has been felt on labor, too, with both day and night shifts working.
“Since (May), there has been a significant replenishment of warehouse inventories,” Seroka said. “Coupled with retailers planning for consumer holiday spending, it has created a surge of imports.”
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