Peak season? More like 'weak' for Asia imports

Peak season? More like 'weak' for Asia imports

LOS ANGELES - September was a disappointing month for containerized imports from Asia as traffic fell well short of historic peak-season levels for most U.S. ports.

For West Coast and East Coast ports that are prominent in the U.S.-Asia trade, September is a critical month when retailers bring in gift items and other merchandise for the end-of-year holiday selling season.

Los Angeles, the nation's largest gateway for Asian imports with nearly 40 percent of the total market, according to PIERS, the Port Import-Export Reporting Service of the Journal of Commerce, saw shipments increase just 6.7 percent over September 2002.

September imports were actually less than what Los Angeles handled in August and about the same as the port moved in May.

Imports through Long Beach, which moves about 23 percent of Asia shipments, rose 12.2 percent. However, Long Beach handled more imported cargo in July and almost as much in August and April.

Tacoma saw containerized imports increase 11.3 percent compared with the same month a year ago. But the port handled nearly the same number of shipments in June and had racked up monthly increases of 30 percent or more earlier in this year. Tacoma handles about 6 percent of inbound Asia cargo.

Imports through Seattle rose 4 percent in September, compared to an 8 percent increase year-to-date. Shipments through Portland, Ore., were up 17 percent in September, although the port recorded higher import figures in four separate months already this year.

On the East Coast, Savannah's imports traffic climbed 5 percent, far below the 30 percent increases seen in prior months. Savannah moved more imported containers in January, with some of the cargo having been diverted from the West Coast following the lock-out of longshoremen in late 2002. Savannah has a 5.6 percent share of Asia imports.

The port of New York-New Jersey, which claims a 9.2 percent share of Asian imports, had not yet reported September data. Imports declined slightly in July and August compared to a year ago, following monthly increases of about 30 percent earlier in the year. Like Savannah, New York benefited from increased all-water services from Asia to the East Coast.

Trade observers speculate that since so much production has shifted to China the past two years, many consumer products that sell year-round are now imported from Asia rather than being sourced in North America. As a result, a trend may be developing in which cargo volumes are relatively stable throughout the year, with only small peaks for the back-to-school and holiday selling seasons.