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California and the West

Imports at U.S. Ports Hit Record High

In July, cargo traffic in Los Angeles and Long Beach surged past year-earlier levels, a report says.

September 13, 2006|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles, Long Beach and seven other top U.S. ports handled a record amount of inbound cargo in July, eclipsing the high-water mark set in October, traditionally the busiest month because retailers are bringing in goods for the holiday season.

"The system is handling volumes that have never been seen before, thanks mainly to continued growth in the demand for Asian imports," said Paul Bingham, an economist at Global Insight Inc., a Boston-based economic forecaster that tracks port performance for the nation's largest retailers.

The nine ports in July received the equivalent of 1.38 million 20-foot cargo containers, breaking the record of 1.37 million boxes, according to a report released Tuesday. Despite the growing volume of incoming containers, shippers aren't running into much congestion, Global Insight reported.

Nowhere is the surge more evident than in Los Angeles, the nation's largest port, where overall cargo traffic is running more than 10% ahead of last year's record pace. At Long Beach, the No. 2 U.S. port, container traffic is up nearly 9% from year-earlier levels. July imports reached 404,665 containers in Los Angeles and 305,117 in Long Beach, the report said.

"These figures reflect continuing strength in the [U.S.] consumer market," said Jim MacLellan, marketing director for the Los Angeles port. The port also is seeing a surge in exports such as wastepaper, metal scrap and animal feed.

The report tracks the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma, Wash., and Seattle on the West Coast and New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Virginia, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., on the East Coast.

The National Retail Federation hired Global Insight after congestion at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and elsewhere reached such epic proportions in 2004 that deliveries were delayed by a week or longer. The toll: billions of dollars in retail losses and higher prices for shoppers. To alleviate the congestion, the Southern California ports added workers and extended terminal hours, and the railroads added equipment.

Global Insight projected that the ports will sail through the rest of the busy season without significant traffic tie-ups, barring unexpected events such as a major hurricane or a strike.

ron.white@latimes.com

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