West Coast ports entered 2012 anticipating only modest, single-digit growth in imports and exports. To date, that forecast has been right on target.
The total volume of loaded containers handled by West Coast ports increased 3 percent through May compared to the same period last year, according to Pacific Maritime Association data.
Containerized imports, up 3 percent in the January-May period, are trending slightly higher than the 2 percent increase in exports.
U.S. GDP increased a disappointing 1.8 percent in the first quarter. Europe’s economic woes deepened during the period, dragging down the U.S. economy, as well as those in important trading partners in Asia.
Exports have played an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy in recent years, but with Europe in recession and China’s economy feeling the pain, it appears exports won’t be the strong engine of U.S. economic growth anticipated when the year began.
Journal of Commerce economist Mario Moreno projects containerized exports in 2012 will increase 3.5 percent. He sees imports increasing 4.5 percent compared to last year. With West Coast port exports up only 2 percent through May, it will take a surge in exports this fall to salvage the year.
With the eastbound trans-Pacific trade building toward the peak months of August, September and October, it’s starting to look like containerized imports will lead the way for West Coast ports for the rest of the year.
The June Global Port Tracker published by the National Retail Association and Ben Hackett Associates projects containerized imports at U.S. ports will increase 7.3 percent in August, 9 percent in September and 19.9 percent in October compared to the same months last year. Those projections were made before the July 6 release of disappointing June job-creation numbers for the U.S.
Growth at the port level on the West Coast has been rather consistent this year. The PMA statistics through May show the total container volume in Los Angeles-Long Beach increased 2 percent in the first five months of the year compared to the same period last year.
Oakland’s container volume was up 3 percent year-to-date, as was the total container volume in Seattle-Tacoma. Portland experienced strong growth of 13 percent, although that was on a smaller cargo base.
Seattle and Tacoma outperformed the California ports in imports during the first five months of 2012. Imports rose 5 percent in the Pacific Northwest, 2 percent through Southern California and 4 percent at Oakland. Portland’s import volumes declined 4 percent compared to the first five months of 2011.
Although export growth this year has been lackluster, the California ports performed better than Seattle and Tacoma. Exports increased 2 percent in Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland, while exports declined 1 percent in Seattle-Tacoma. Portland performed exceptionally well in the five-month period, with exports up 30 percent.
May was a good month for all West Coast ports. Total container volumes in Los Angeles-Long Beach increased 6 percent, with imports up 6 percent and exports up 5 percent over May 2011.
Oakland’s total container volume in May grew 6 percent, with imports up 7 percent and exports up 4 percent. Seattle-Tacoma bounced back in May with an 11 percent increase in total container volume compared to May 2011. Imports increased 19 percent and exports were up 2 percent over May 2011 in the Seattle-Tacoma gateway.
Portland’s total container volume rose 18 percent. Imports declined 2 percent, but exports were up 40 percent.