Port Volumes: Stormy Weather Ahead?

    Yesterday we took a look at railroad carloads which showed a weakening in June. Today let's consider port volume out of Los Angeles and Long Beach to see if they confirm the double dip scenario. In June the port of Los Angeles handled 730,317 TEUs (20 foot containers) compared to 551,679 TEUs last June, which is up 32% year over year. However, you can see in the chart below, the main growth was from inbound containers (imports) and empty containers, which increased 32% and 53% respectively. So we can see from the numbers that Americans are back to buying useless trinkets from Asia (the consumer is back?), and exports increased by 13%, which is positive. Note that total volume for the port's fiscal year (ends June 30) is 7.2 million TEUs, which is flat with last year's numbers, but port volume is still down from the high of 8.5 million reached back in 2006.  Not exactly a sign of a healthy and growing economy. 

June                                     2010               2009             Change         %Change

Loaded Inbound             371,888.60       281,175.05     90,713.55        32.26%
Loaded Outbound          154,558.00       137,214.40     17,343.60         12.64%
Total Loaded                 526,446.60       418,389.45     108,057.15       25.83%
Total Empty                   203,871.25       133,290.25      70,581.00        52.95%
Total                             730,317.85        551,679.70     178,638.15       32.38%

    Looking at the port of Long Beach you will see similar numbers across the board except for a smaller increase in outbound containers(only 1.8%) year over year in June. Long Beach's volume benefited from a surge in inbound containers and empty containers. According to the port, the reason for the increase in empty containers has to do with a shortage of containers in Asia as a result of higher import volumes. So these empty containers are returning to Asia again.

 Port of Long Beach

                                               June                            Fiscal Year to Date

                                 2010       2009     %Change     2010       2009     %Change

Loaded Inbound      262,053   206,358   27.0%     2,088,297   1,915,664    9.0%
Loaded Outbound   116,112   114,107    1.8%      1,108,373    983,492      12.7%
Empties                  141,935    92,882     52.8%     965,723      1,016,513   -5.0%
TOTAL (T.E.U.)    520,100    413,347   25.8%     4,162,393   3,915,669    6.3%

    We can conclude from these numbers that yes, volumes have increased year over year (signaling a slight rebound in the economy), but volumes are still lower than the peak years of 2006 and 2007. It certainly does not indicate a V-shape recovery in the US economy, especially if you exclude empty containers from the numbers. These numbers largely correspond with the railroad carloads that we looked at yesterday, which show that the economy remains very weak. Right now it is too early to tell based on port volume, whether we are entering a double dip in the economy.   


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