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Imports Climb at L.A., Long Beach

Trade: Ports' exports are down from a year ago, reflecting Asia crisis. But month-over-month, they're up.

November 20, 1998|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cargo imports to Long Beach and Los Angeles, the nation's busiest ports, rose in October, and exports from both were down 11% from last year, the latest signal that a strong U.S. dollar continues to suppress overseas demand for American goods.

Imports to the busier Port of Long Beach rose 6% in October from a year ago and surged 20% in Los Angeles, harbor officials reported Thursday.

Though exports were down from a year ago, they grew at both ports in the month-to-month period--an indication that the gloomy global outlook for U.S. outbound cargo may be clearing. For Long Beach, it was the first month-to-month increase in eight months.

Exports at both ports were up 5% from September, a trend that analysts said had roots on both sides of the Pacific.

In Asia, stabilizing economies in Thailand, South Korea and elsewhere have helped generate increased demand for U.S. raw materials such as waste papers, chemicals and cotton, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

He also said moves by the Federal Reserve to lower U.S. interest rates have weakened the dollar abroad and made American exports more attractive.

Locally, part of the reason for the month-to-month export surge is that October is traditionally a strong month for outbound cargo, Long Beach harbor trade analyst Matt Plezia said.

However, month-to-month import levels at the two ports took different trajectories: Incoming October cargo at Los Angeles was up 9% over September, while inbound volume at Long Beach for the period was down by the same margin.

Kyser said the discrepancy could be a sign that some retailers--who have been stocking their shelves with Asian goods made inexpensive by the region's economic troubles--are reaching capacity on holiday inventories and reining in purchases.

"They are going to hold off and see what kind of Christmas they are going to have before stocking up for January and February," Kyser said.

Hal Hilliard, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, said the September-October import falloff may also be partly due to September's raft of grim economic news, which included drastic swings in the U.S. stock market and near collapse in global financial markets.

"The doomsayers were predicting the economy was going to cool off or even go into recession," Hilliard said. "I think many of the large retail stores were afraid of getting hit between the eyes with a less-than-favorable consumer market."

At the Port of Los Angeles, Al Fierstine, director of business development, said the facility's month-to-month jump in imports probably represented the facility's last rush of consumer goods for this year's holiday season. Import activity this month has already fallen markedly, he said.

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