POLA and POLB set respective September and third quarter volume records

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · October 21, 2020

Record September and best quarterly volumes on record were matching themes in recent data issued by the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) and the Port of Long Beach (POLB).

POLA reported it handled a record 883,625 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), for the month, which marked a 13.3% annual increase, with second quarter volume—at 2,701,847 TEU also setting a new record, surpassing the fourth quarter of 2018. The monthly average, for the third quarter, came in slightly above 900,00 TEU per month, well ahead of the roughly 627,000 TEU per month over the first six months of 2020. POLA’s data was issued on October 14.

Imports—at 471,795 TEU—headed up 17.3% annually, with exports essentially flat, falling 0.3%, to 130,397 TEU. Empty containers—at 281,434 TEU—rose 14%. POLA said that this tops September 2018’s 801,264 TEU. Through the first nine months of 2020, total volume is off 8.9%, to 6,463,735 TEU.

On a recent media conference call, POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka said POLA welcomed 97 ship arrivals in September, with no cancelled sailings for the first time on 2020. And the port also had 11 ad hoc, or unscheduled, sailings that were put in motion to meet demand in September.

“This amount of cargo volume creates some supply chain complexities that must be dealt with on a daily basis,” he said. “We are working with stakeholders on the challenges that arise from an import surge like this [in September]. We have seen dwell times increase, longer turn times for our trucks, and additional cargo on our tarmacs. For example, the Port Optimizer and Signal data [a three-week look at cargo coming into Los Angeles] are now showing that we can provide stakeholders additional information so they can better plan their assets and staffing. We are listening, responding and staying nimble to the needs of our customers and our partners. The bottom line for September: after 11 consecutive months of year-on-year declines, we have now had two months, in August and September, of year-on-year comparable growth.”

And he added that POLA continues to see the replenishment of warehouse and distribution center inventory along with retailers prepping for year-end holidays, coupled with consumers buying again after staying at home through much of the spring. Seroka also cited how the National Retail Federation recently suggested that merchants are stocking up in anticipation of an early holiday shopping season.

POLB’s data, which was issued today, showed that the port handled 795,580 TEU in September, for a 12.5% annual gain, setting a new record and topping the previous record of 753,081 TEU, which was set in July.

September POLB imports—at 405,618 TEU—were up 14.3%, and exports—at 112,556 TEU—fell 8.7%. Empty containers—at 277,406 TEU—rose 27.7%.

For the second quarter, POLB handled 2,274,271 TEU, marking a 14.1% annual increase and setting a new quarterly record, beating out the third quarter of 2017 by around 160,000 TEU. And on a year-to-date basis, through September, total volume is up 0.5%, to 5,707,305 TEU.

“Large retail stores are reopening, merchants are stocking up for the winter holidays and the increased use of e-commerce appears to be an enduring trend picked up by consumers during the recent stay-at-home orders,” said Mario Cordero, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, in a statement. “Still, we must move ahead with caution during the remaining months of 2020 because the national economy continues to be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The September POLA and POLB gains were in line with commentary recently provided by Chris Rogers, research director of global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

“After we saw July’s data come in above the prior year and followed by a big acceleration in August, that was a good sign,” he said. “I think what surprised me was the fact that September was stronger than August, and that is very rare. If you look at the past 10 years, September is normally about 5% lower than August, and that has to do with factory openings and delivery requirements. It can take up to six weeks to go from a Chinese factory to an American store, when thinking about the timing for arrivals.”

Another driver for September’s strong performance, according to Rogers, is retailers’ expecting earlier holiday shopping, for consumers looking to avoid crowds. And another factor focuses on concerns related to shipping later in the year, too, he added.

October 21, 2020