Trade outlook clouds Port of Oakland forecast

Port of Oakland officials attributed a July import cargo volume gain to U.S. retailers restocking inventories depleted during the coronavirus pandemic, but they’re not shopping for party hats just yet.

The California port reported a 6.4% year-over-year increase in containerized import shipments in July, much better than the 1.9% step up in June and welcome news after monthly declines from February through May. 

But Bryan Brandes, the Port of Oakland’s maritime director, cautioned against reading too much into the results.

“It’s good to see an uptick in cargo activity,” Brandes said in the port’s announcement Wednesday. “But we’re not doing any victory celebrations because the trade outlook remains unclear as long as the pandemic is with us.” 

And the good news was offset by a 6.5% year-over-year decline in July of export volume. The Port of Oakland’s export volume now has dropped three months in a row. 

The port said dwindling exports could be the result of China’s efforts to bar wastepaper shipments. Scrap paper is one of the leading exports from U.S. West Coast ports, including Oakland.

Total cargo volume from Jan. 1 through July 31 was down 5.8% from the same period a year ago.

“That’s due primarily to a nearly 10% drop in shipments of empty cargo containers back to origin destinations,” the port said. 

Port of Oakland officials have been keeping a close eye on volume effects from trade disputes with China as well as the coronavirus pandemic. In late June, the port approved a fiscal year 2021 budget with 15.84% less in operating and capital expenditures than the previous year.

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