Sunday, November 15, 2015

LA area Port Traffic declined in October

by Bill McBride on 11/15/2015 09:33:00 AM

First, from the WSJ: Quiet U.S. Ports Spark Slowdown Fears

For the first time in at least a decade, imports fell in both September and October at each of the three busiest U.S. seaports, according to data from trade researcher Zepol Corp. analyzed by The Wall Street Journal. ...
...
The declines came during a stretch from late summer to early fall known in the transportation world as peak shipping season, when cargo volumes typically surge through U.S. ports. It is a crucial few months for the U.S. economy as well: High import volumes can signal a confident view on the economy among retailers and manufacturers, while fears of a slowdown grow when ports are quiet.
Note: There were some large swings in LA area port traffic earlier this year due to labor issues that were settled in late February. Port traffic surged in March as the waiting ships were unloaded (the trade deficit increased in March too), and port traffic declined in April.

Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.

The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).

To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.

LA Area Port TrafficClick on graph for larger image.

On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down 0.2% compared to the rolling 12 months ending in October.   Outbound traffic was down 0.5% compared to 12 months ending in October.

The recent downturn in exports might be due to the strong dollar and weakness in China.

For imports, August was the all time inbound record, so some of September and October traffic probably arrived in August.

The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).

LA Area Port TrafficUsually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March (depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year).

Imports were down 2% year-over-year in October; exports were down 6% year-over-year.

For the July through October peak period, imports were up 2.1% year-over-year - not the weakness described in the WSJ article (although the WSJ article included New York harbor).