November volumes remain strong for POLA and POLB

November volumes at the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) and the Port of Long Beach (POLB) were again strong, according to data recently issued by each port.

POLA said it handled 889,746 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), in November, which marked a 22.1% annual increase. This was down from October’s 980,729 TEU, which is POLA’s highest-volume month in its 114 years of operations, and it highlighted both inventory replenishment and retailers getting ready for the holidays.

Imports—at 464,820 TEU—headed up 25.2% annually, with exports down 5.5%, to 130,917 TEU. Empty containers—at 294,010 TEU—rose 34.2%. Through the first 11 months of 2020, total volume is off 3%, to 8,334,210 TEU.

POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka said on a media call today that November’s tally was in line with his expectation last month the November volumes would approach the 900,000 TEU mark. And he also noted that on November 30 there were 12 ships at anchor, awaiting berthing rights at POLA, with an estimated 100,000 TEU on board. Seroka said those vessels were delayed for two days and shifted into the port’s December data.  

“After 11 months of year-over-year cargo declines, we have now stitched together four consecutive months, from August through November, of year-over-year growth,” said Seroka. “During this period, the monthly TEU average is almost 930,000 TEU, an indicator of the powerful import surge and its duration.”

Seroka explained that November continued a pattern of heavy warehouse and distribution center replenishment, in addition to last-minute holiday orders coming in across the port’s docks.

“It is unusual to see this type of import volume so late in the year,” he said. “As we all know, 2020 has been anything but normal.”   

Addressing the gain in imports, Seroka said the ongoing import push has erased the deficit seen over the first half of 2020 and are up around 1% annually through November.

On the exports side, he called November’s 5.5% annual decline disappointing, also noting that POLA exports are down 13% year-to-date. What’s more, POLA exports have been down 23 of the last 25 months, due largely to continued and ongoing trade tensions with China and also the strength of the U.S. dollar, too, which makes U.S. goods expensive to sell in overseas markets, he said.

As for empty containers, Seroka noted empties still remain in high demand in Asia, again outstripping by more than two times the amount of loaded American exports that departed from POLA.

Looking at December, Seroka said that the port’s current estimate for the month is at about 875,000 TEU, which would be an annual increase of nearly 17%, said Seroka.

“Much depends on the fluidity and ability of the ships at berth,” he said. “We are factoring those operational challenges into our estimates,” he said. “Our current 2020 year-end projection is 9.2 million TEU, which would be just a little more than 1.5% lower than last year. Considering the roller-coaster we have been on all year long. I am pleased with how we are finishing this challenging year of 2020.”

And into 2021, he said January is pegged to hit around 850,000 TEU, which would be about 5% higher than a very busy January 2020, with the caveat of that number possibly changing because of the aforementioned anchorage and fluidity issues at POLA.

“Retailers are broadly estimating imports will be strong, at least through April,” he said. “A recent UCLA Anderson Economic Forecast predicts ‘a gloomy COVID winter and an exuberant vaccine spring to be followed by sustained economic growth.’”

Seroka said import growth looks solid in the months ahead, but there is a little bit of a volume dip expected to follow the Lunar New Year in mid-February, at a time when manufacturing traditionally slows in China.

Port of Long Beach data: Total POLA November volume—at 783,523 TEU—increased 30.6% annually, with this tally marking its best November on record, paced by the retail holiday rush and a surge in personal protective equipment (PPE).

Imports—at 382,677 TEU—saw a 30.5% annual gain, and exports—at 117,283 TEU—slipped 5.2% for the same period. Empty containers jumped 55% annually, coming in at 283,563 TEU. And on a year-to-date basis through November, total POLA volume—at 7,297,430 TEU—is up 4.7% annually.

“Online shopping and PPE purchases are on the rise as consumers continue the stay-at-home lifestyle, but the overall economic outlook is uncertain with another wave of COVID-19 spreading across the country,” said Mario Cordero, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, in a statement. “We’re dealing with the surge in containers by partnering with stakeholders, utilizing a temporary storage yard and prioritizing dual transaction truck trips that balance inbound and outbound cargo flows.”

In a recent interview with LM, Cordero said that 2020 is clearly an unprecedented time.

“For the port industry, going back to 2019 before the pandemic, we were already in a period of uncertainty in regards to tariff implementation and it impacted both imports and exports,” he said. ‘As we went into 2020, we were a little bit concerned about the direction of the trade war, and then the whole pandemic thing comes in and there is a full fledge impact on operations, as we approached March. What this has been for POLB, for the first half of the year, was that there were negative impacts related to the pandemic on our economy, and when that happened people got laid off and there were various shelter-in-place initiatives…and that all circles down to commerce. And, at POLB, for the first four months of the year, we were in negative numbers. Then we enter the fifth month, which is May, and we finally got into a positive area, with 10% annual growth, and then moved down to a negative number again in June. For the first half of the year, the impact to POLB was a 6.9% annual loss in volume.”     

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman