Imports into the Port of Los Angeles fell 10.2 percent in June from the same month a year ago, throwing a new cloud over the U.S. economy and prospects for improvement heading into the fall peak shipping season.
The decline in containerized imports suggested retailers were growing increasingly cautious, managing inventory closely because of the economic slowdown, and also showed the impact of a dip in Japanese trade caused by the tsunami and nuclear disaster in March.
The nation's largest container port also faced tough comparisons to 2010, when Los Angeles benefitted from an unusually strong summer shipping season because the country's largest retailers were anxious to get goods in place amid reports of capacity shortages.
Imports in June 2010 were up 32 percent over the previous year, and volume remained strong through August, the port noted.
“Given the early and exceptional 2010 summer surge, it’s not surprising that the June 2010 volumes aren’t exceeding 2010 volumes,” the port said.
The Global Port Tracker published by the National Retail Federation and Ben Hackett Associates projects that imports in the months of September through November will increase 10 to 19 percent over the corresponding months in 2010.
Last summer, the eastbound Pacific trade peaked in August and turned flat during the fall months. Shipping this year is expected to return to a more traditional pattern in which imports are strongest during the fall months, in preparation for the holiday shopping season.
Exports, strong so far this year, slipped back to more modest 5.5 percent growth in June. Exports of scrap paper normally tail off in early summer in line with the school vacations. Containerized agricultural exports are also slow. Exports of both commodities should rebound in the fall and remain strong into the winter months.
Total container volume in Los Angeles, including empties, was down 12.2 percent in June compared to June 2010. The return of empty containers to Asia plunged 29.5 percent in June.
In the first six months of 2011, total container volume, including empties, was up 2.8 percent in Los Angeles compared to the first half of 2010.