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Ports' Exports Continue to Fall

L.A., Long Beach Feel Pinch of Asian Crisis in August

September 18, 1998|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In an indication that fallout from Asia's economic turmoil continues to jostle the U.S. and local economies, the nation's busiest ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles reported Thursday that overall export volume in August was down at least 4% over a year ago.

At the Port of Long Beach, which handles more cargo than any other U.S. harbor, the drop was even more pronounced at 11.5%. And August also marked the port's fifth straight month of decline in export volume.

"The Asian financial crisis seems to be lasting longer and to be deeper than we thought," said Don Wylie, the Long Beach port's director of trade and maritime services.

At the same time, however, August imports into both harbors were up roughly 22% over last year as Asian manufacturers sought to offset slumping domestic sales with beefed up sales in the U.S. consumer market. Last month, the Port of Long Beach posted the second-highest level of inbound containers in its history. It had reached a record high in July.

But faltering financial markets in Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations have doused demand for U.S. exports there, leaving outbound freighters from L.A. and Long Beach considerably lighter.

The massive cranes at both harbors last month loaded nearly 10% more empty containers on outbound ships than full ones. Long Beach loaded a record 99,766 "empties," a 100% jump over last year.

"The record number of empties is a reflection of the growing trade imbalance [between the U.S. and Asia]," Wylie said.

But while export figures at Long Beach have been dropping since March, the Port of Los Angeles last month posted a 9.5% increase in exports, after logging its own four-month slide.

Los Angeles port officials could not be reached for comment, but Hal Hilliard, marketing manager for the Port of Long Beach, said the spike could be tied to the heavy volume of trade that the Port of Los Angeles has with Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.

Port officials also said Thursday that Union Pacific railroad had been able to move all cargo off the docks with minimal delay. UP rail-car congestion has plagued the ports here and elsewhere for much of the year, but the railroad's efforts to alleviate the logjams appear to be working.

* TRADE GAP SURPRISE: The U.S. trade deficit in July came in lower than expected. D3

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