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Cargo traffic surges at Port of L.A. as Long Beach sees a drop

The Port of Los Angeles records its best April ever. Experts predict a slight increase in cargo traffic for the twin-port complex for the rest of the year.

May 16, 2012|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — which together constitute the nation's busiest seaport complex — reported very different traffic numbers for April.

Together, they saw only a 1.8% increase for the month compared with a year earlier. Analysts blamed the near-flat results on the slowing Chinese economy and continuing doubts about the strength of the U.S. recovery.

But the Port of Los Angeles had its best April ever and its best month of the year. Imports grew 16.7% from a year earlier to 364,556 containers. Exports rose 11.6% to 186,838 containers.

Overall, including empty containers sent back to Asia for later use in delivering more imports, the Port of Los Angeles moved 707,182 cargo containers in April, up 14.6%.

"Any time we see more than 700,000 containers, it's a very good month for us," Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.

It was quite a different April in Long Beach.

Imports through that port fell 13.8% to 232,963 containers, according to preliminary numbers from the port. Exports fell 16.2% to 120,452 containers.

Including empty containers, Long Beach moved 461,911 containers in April, down 13% from a year earlier. That left the combined ports with 1.2 million containers moved in April.

Long Beach is operating with six cargo terminals instead of the seven it had before California United Terminals left in late 2010 to move into the Port of Los Angeles. Long Beach officials said the lost terminal, which is a subsidiary of Hyundai, represented about 10% of the port's cargo traffic.

Experts predict modest growth in traffic at the ports for the rest of the year. An international trade report due to be officially released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. was expected to forecast just 3% to 4% growth in U.S. trade.

Jock O'Connell, a trade expert at Beacon Economics, also said there would be growth through the remainder of the year, "but not a level that you would call robust."

International trade is important to the Southern California economy. About 640,000 people work in trade-related jobs in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties, Inland Empire economist John Husing said.

That's up from a low of fewer than 600,000 during the recession, but still far short of the 709,000 trade jobs held in pre-recession 2007.

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