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Saturday, October 17, 2009

LA Area Port Traffic in September

by Calculated Risk on 10/17/2009 09:30:00 AM

Note: this is not seasonally adjusted. There is a very distinct seasonal pattern for imports, but not for exports.

Sometimes port traffic gives us an early hint of changes in the trade deficit. The following graph shows the loaded 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). Although containers tell us nothing about value, container traffic does give us an idea of the volume of goods being exported and imported.

LA Area Port Traffic Click on graph for larger image in new window.

Inbound traffic was 17.4% below September 2008.

Outbound traffic was 8.6% below September 2008.

Even with the decline in September, there has been a clear recovery in U.S. exports. And export traffic at the LA area ports is at the September 2006 level.

However, for imports, traffic is about at the September 2003 level, and 2009 will probably be the weakest year for import traffic since 2002.

Note: Imports usually peak in the August through October period (as retailers import goods for the holidays) and then decline in November.

And some color from the LA Times: Imports dive at ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

As dismal as those figures are for the two ports, which rank first and second in the U.S. in container volume and together rank fifth in the world, a greater worry goes beyond the immediate and substantial loss of local trade-related jobs: Some of the ports' most important tenants were so poorly positioned for the downturn that they might sink completely in a sea of billions of dollars of red ink, experts say.

"Without a doubt, the Southern California ports should be worried," said Neil Dekker, an analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants in London who produces container industry forecasts. "Companies will go bust; freight rates may take years to recover."