Containerized imports moving through West Coast ports in August declined 7 percent compared to the same month in 2010 while exports surged 12 percent compared to August 2010, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.
The August numbers extended a trend that has seen trans-Pacific exports grow steadily since the second quarter while imports have been relatively soft.
Even though containerized imports in August were weak compared to August 2010, the 849,458 TEUs of imports were the highest monthly number of the year so far in 2011, according to numbers compiled from by PMA. This indicates the eastbound trans-Pacific trade lane is building toward what is likely to be a disappointing peak fall shipping season.
Exports, though, are a different story. August is generally a weak month for U.S. exports to Asia, but the especially strong numbers this year indicate that exports during the normally busy fall and winter months should be quite strong over the next six months.
The contrasting developments of weak imports and rapidly-growing exports could result in equipment and space shortages for exporters if carriers lay up significant vessel tonnage during the winter slack season.
Carriers deploy vessel capacity in the Pacific based on the strength of the eastbound trade. If imports remain relatively weak, and carriers cut capacity late this year into early 2012, exporters of agricultural products, scrap paper and scrap metal could experience capacity issues.
Year-to-date container volumes tell a similar story to the August monthly numbers. Imports during the first eight months of 2011 were flat compared to the same period last year, while exports year-to-date were up 9 percent. Total cargo volume combining imports and exports was up 4 percent at West Coast ports year-to-date.