In a sign that the U.S. economy is still in the doldrums, cargo traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was down 1% in July from a year earlier.
When the economy is strong, this is the time of year when the ports are busy offloading back-to-school products and goods for the November and December holiday shopping season.
Jock O'Connell, an economist for Beacon Economics, said cargo traffic is reflecting "less international trade demand for all kinds of goods."
"We are seeing an ailing global economy now," he said. "As the big markets tend to slow down, trade begins to slow down as well."
O'Connell said that California's exports to countries including China and India declined so far this year.
Other experts said they were still hoping for stronger international trade numbers in August and the fall months.
"Analysts are getting nervous and expecting the U.S. consumer to retrench and reduce consumption," said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, a firm that tracks trade for the National Retail Federation. "But we continue to believe that trade will not weaken as much as expected by others."
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rank first and second in the nation, respectively, in cargo volume. They moved a combined total of 1.25 million containers in July.
For the first seven months of 2012, traffic at the two ports has run 1.1% ahead of last year's pace, at a little less than 8.1 million containers.