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LA Port on pace to have best fiscal year of any Western Hemisphere port

The Port of Los Angeles joined its Long Beach neighbor in breaking yet another cargo record last month, officials said Wednesday, April 14 — and is on pace to have the best fiscal year in history for any port in the Western Hemisphere.

Last month was the busiest March in the Port of LA’s 114-year history and the third-best of any month, Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a briefing. He called it “March Madness,” referencing the nickname for the NCAA basketball tournament. Yet, it was just the latest in a string of record-breaking months for both ports — the two busiest in the nation — since trade began rebounding last summer after a several-month crash amid the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

March also capped an exceptional first calendar quarter of 2021, with overall cargo volumes during the first three months of the year increasing 44% compared to the same period in 2020.

“The remarkable story on imports continues,” Seroka said.

More than 957,000 TEUs — the container measurement standard used — poured into the Port of LA last month, he said.

For perspective, Seroka added, if those containers were placed end to end, they “would stretch from Los Angeles to New York and halfway back again across the country.”

The heavy flow that began in July, he said in his monthly cargo update, is the result of the continuing pandemic-related online retail spending spree, which is expected to push into summer. Then, he said, the port will pivot as the traditional peak months kick off in August — with back-to-school and holiday surges.

“The Port of Los Angeles is on track,” Seroka said, “to close its fiscal year on June 30 exceeding 10 million TEUs for the first time ever seen in any port in the Western Hemisphere.”

Retail forecasts, he said, show no letup in consumer purchasing going into the summer months.

“I’ve not witnessed a sustained surge like this in all my years” in the industry, Seroka said.

March’s cargo numbers were 113% better than the same month in 2020, though that span is somewhat misleading since that’s when the pandemic-related cargo crash began.

A fairer comparison to a more normal year — looking at March 2019 compared to last month — still shows a “robust” 17% climb in cargo volume, Seroka said.

Similarly, the Port of Long Beach earlier reported that March was its busiest month on record.

The numbers are all the more remarkable since March is typically a slow month in shipping, port officials said, paling in comparison to the industry’s peak season in late summer through the end of the year.

The wave has been fueled by an unprecedented consumer surge, with the pandemic changing how folks spend their money: Less traveling, more online shopping.

“Internet sales have doubled over the past year,” Seroka said.

Until recently, consumers have largely been unable to spend money on typical leisure activities, such as traveling, dining out and going to ball games. So they turned to at-home activities that spurred a buying spree, which focused on home improvement products, furniture and home office supplies, leisure wear and exercise equipment.

Golf and tennis equipment, Seroka said, “are going through the roof.”

The ease of buying online, Seroka predicted, will continue to be a factor in consumer habits. And vaccinations are expected to lead into a shift from the retail sector to the service sector going forward as society begins to open up again.

But the surge in imports has had some consequences. Both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, for example, have seen a backlog of ships waiting to drop off cargo — creating a line of container vessels stretching along the coast into south Orange County. Some ships have had to wait at anchor for as long as a week before making to to the twin ports.

The Port of LA had 95 vessels arrive in March, the trade hub said in a press release.

The ports have made progress, however, in cutting down the number of ships that must wait at anchor, Seroka said. He did not provide specifics on that progress, but did say the goal is to ultimately have all ships go straight to berth at the ports rather than waiting out at sea.

It will take about another six weeks to clear the backlog, Seroka said.

“We’ve been working with stakeholders and are starting to see progress now,” he said, adding, “Everyone’s pulling in the same direction and working at lightning speed to correct the bottlenecks as quickly as possible.”

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Source: Orange County Register

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