The nation's busiest cargo complex posted 18% growth in combined container traffic for October, adding another strong month to the ports' recent string of double-digit growth.
"Retailers were concerned about a shortage of cargo containers and they ordered early this year to make sure they had enough goods for the holiday season," said Nancy Sidhu, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "The fact that these numbers were still higher than what had been 2009's best month is significant."
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle more than 40% of the nation's imports. That makes the duo's operations an important bellwether for the U.S. economy.
The economy, as reflected in the trade numbers, has been growing sporadically but is improving, Sidhu said.
"The numbers wiggle, but they still go up and up," she said. "Things are better."
At the Port of Los Angeles in October, 349,545 containers brought imports from Asia, up 3% from the 338,735 import containers received in October 2009. Exports rose less than 1% to 151,049 from 150,657 a year earlier. Overall, including empty containers, traffic in October was up more than 5% to 682,385 from 647,424 a year earlier.
For the first 10 months of the year, much of which compared against some of the worst times of the global recession in 2009, traffic at the Port of Los Angeles rose almost 17% to 6.6 million containers.
"The bigger picture is that we have had a better-than-expected recovery so far this year," said Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles.
At the Port of Long Beach, which ranks second in the nation only to Los Angeles, the numbers were even stronger, in part because that port hadn't begun to recover from the recession in October 2009. Long Beach's October statistics were the best year-over-year results for the port in any month since October 2007.
Long Beach imports last month hit 303,168 containers, a nearly 34% jump from the 227,064 containers logged a year earlier. Exports through Long Beach rose to 150,581 containers, up 26% compared with the 119,194 containers in October 2009.
Including empties, Long Beach's traffic soared 36% overall in October to 613,621 containers from 452,418 a year earlier. For the year, Long Beach's cargo traffic was up nearly 25% to just under 5.2 million containers.
Those numbers could look even better, according to some local business owners, if more companies focused on exporting.
"People want American products, said Jim Ajmal, owner of Valley of the Sun Cosmetics in Carson. Ajmal said his scrubs, lotions and other cosmetic products have enjoyed strong sales in China, India, Singapore, the Middle East and, more recently, Africa. The company's revenue has grown to $5 million in this, its 10th year of operations, from $10,000 in sales its first year, while the staff has increased to 30 from five, he said.
"If you only sell in this country, you are missing out on about 3.5 billion customers," Ajmal said. "That's pretty much the whole buying world," Ajmal said.