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THE ECONOMY

Ports reflect U.S. slump

While exports jump at Los Angeles and Long Beach, imports fall as consumers cut back.

September 02, 2008|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Eriksen's company has been able to stay afloat, but the two partners he used to share cargo container space with have both gone out of business, and Eriksen is about to close his showroom. His business will operate exclusively through the Internet to reduce costs.

"The Internet is now the only avenue of exposure to these consumers as they are increasingly hard to find," Eriksen said. "The suppliers and craftsmanship shops in Denmark are going out of business. An entire industry is really being impacted."

But the most pain, perhaps, is being felt at the bottom, by those who make the least amount of money from the movement of goods through the ports: truck drivers such as Porfirio Diaz. His plight was detailed during a briefing on the status of working-class families last week by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley.

Diaz drives containers to and from the Port of Oakland on mostly short-haul routes. Diaz's family home is in foreclosure. He maxed out his credit card on a $12,000 truck repair bill and says he can't afford the newer, less-polluting truck he needs to buy under state pollution-control mandates, even with the grant that could help him pay for it.

"Unless something changes, I will not be able to continue to work as an independent owner-operator working at the port," said Diaz, who lives with his wife and three children in Alameda County.

Perhaps the one bit of good news for Southern California: The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach do not figure to lose much market share despite the gloomy economic conditions and costly efforts to clean up diesel emissions that give them the Southland's worst pollution footprint. That's in spite of the fact that retailers will be looking for the least expensive ports, especially as the economic slowdown drags on.

"Other ports will take some business," said Shubhra Jha, director of investment research for C.B. Richard Ellis. "Other ports will do better, but we firmly believe that Los Angeles and Long Beach are not going to lose their national prominence."

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ron.white@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Woes on the waterfront

Imports have recorded sharp declines at major ports. Figures are for top West Coast ports from January through July, compared with the same period of 2007, for the equivalent of 20-foot cargo containers.

Los Angeles

Imports: 2.4 million, -5.5%

Exports: 1.1 million, +23%

Empties*: 986,000, -24.2%

Long Beach

Imports: 1.9 million, -12.7%

Exports: 1.1 million, +23.2%

Empties*: 849,000, -27.4%.

Oakland

Imports: 470,000, -5.3%

Exports: 560,000, +8.8%

Empties*: 172,000, -26.4%

Tacoma

Imports: 376,000, -6.5%

Exports: 304,000, +22.1%

Empties*: 117,000, -22.1%

Seattle

Imports: 405,000, -13%

Exports: 279,000, +1.6%

Empties*: 91,000, -37.4%

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*Empty containers returned overseas

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Source: Times research

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