Container volume moving through West Coast ports increased 14 percent in the first five months of the year. Growth was relatively balanced between imports and exports and across the regional gateways.
Statistics published on the Web site of the Pacific Maritime Association also showed that, except for a slight dip in February, container volume increased steadily from month to month.
The figures for the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach are a good barometer of the U.S. container trade because West Coast ports account for roughly 50 percent of the nation's container trade.
Containerized imports increased 14 percent during the first five months of the year, with April and May showing the largest increase in loaded inbound containers.
Exports were up 13 percent, with March being the busiest month of the year so far. Exports normally enter a seasonal lull in the summer months but rebound strongly in the fall along with the agricultural harvest.
Los Angeles-Long Beach led the coast with a 15 percent increase in total container volume. The Seattle-Tacoma gateway was up 13 percent.
Container volume through Oakland increased 9 percent through May. Unlike the Pacific Northwest and Southern California gateways, exports make up a larger percentage of Oakland's volume than imports. Since U.S. exports last year did not drop as steeply as imports, Oakland's total volume did not drop as much as the rest of the coast, and therefore its rebound this year was not as dramatic as in the other gateways.
Portland was the only gateway to record a drop in container volume. Portland's container volume declined 17 percent compared to the first five months of 2009.
With the economy sending out mixed signals, ports anticipate slower growth in the second half of the year. Some industry analysts, however, continue to project double-digit growth for the year.
The shortage of vessel space appears to be easing as carriers have brought back most of the services they suspended during the winter months. Container availability, however, is still tight, especially in Asia.
Retailers are preparing for a healthy peak shipping season and exporters anticipate strong sales to Asia as the dollar remains weak against some of the currencies there.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.