Port of LA secures record month with 961,833 TEUs

The Port of Los Angeles had its best month ever in August, but Executive Director Gene Seroka wasn’t sipping champagne during Tuesday’s press conference on volumes.

“One month or even one quarter does not make a trend,” Seroka said. “Despite this import surge that we’re seeing, the U.S. economy and global trade face significant challenges. Cargo volume remains down nearly 12% year-on-year through August. The trade imbalance has deepened, with American exports continuing to struggle. In my view, our economy remains in a very precarious position.”

Still, the Port of LA processed a record-setting 961,833 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in August.

“This represents the best single month ever at the Port of LA, beating our October of 2018 number at more than 952,000 TEUs,” Seroka said.  

The volume total was a 12% increase from August 2019 as well as July of this year. 

Eighty-nine vessels called the port in August and only one sailing was blanked during the month. “And to meet demand, seven ad hoc — or unscheduled — sailings were put in place during August as well,” Seroka said.

“This month also was the fifth time in our 114-year history that the Port of Los Angeles has exceeded 900,000 TEUs of throughput. August volume is more than double what we moved just in March, when we dropped sharply with the onset of nationwide shutdowns,” he said. “However, an important point — with this amount of volume, we also see complexity within the supply chain. We’re working with stakeholders on the challenges that arise from one-way import surges like the one we’re witnessing right now.”

Import volume was so high that the Port of LA set a record in August with the 516,296 TEUs handled.

“This is the first time in our history that we’ve ever crossed the half-million mark on imports. However, those imports are still down year-to-date through August” by 7.9%, Seroka said, adding that “exports continue to wane, as I’ve shared, declining 21 of the past 22 months.”

Through August, the Port of LA is tracking 11.5% below its 2019 performance. “In May, the Port of LA volume was down about 18.6% year-on-year, so we’ve cut a bit into that deficit over the past three months,” he said. 

Seroka said the port is estimating it will handle 900,000 TEUs in September. “If achieved, that would be the first time a U.S. port has reached 900,000 TEUs in consecutive months ever,” he said. 

The Signal, the new tool powered by the Port Optimizer, indicates October will be “solid” as well, Seroka said, estimating volume in the high-700,000-TEU range.

“Back in May we forecast 2020 volume at 7.9 million TEUs, which would equate to a 15% decline year-on-year, mainly on the heels of COVID-19 and the shuttering of the U.S. economy as well as the lingering trade tensions,” Seroka said. “Today I’m revising that estimate upward to 8.5 million TEUs, which would approximate a year-on-year decline of about 19%. The revised forecast takes into account a conservative view for liftings in quarter four, and we’ll continue to watch macroeconomics and public health data points very closely.” 

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Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.