As transportation inventories fall, so does the number of ports in Los Angeles

The fear of the supply chain crisis disappears. Transport stocks are plummeting. Yet a huge amount of cargo still flows into American ports.

On Tuesday, the Port of Los Angeles reported better-than-expected volumes for March – it was the port’s best March ever, the fourth-best month in its history, and it rounded the best ever first quarter.

Total throughput was 958,674 20-foot equivalent units, topping only May 2021, October 2020 and August 2020. First-quarter throughput was 1.8 million TEU, an increase of 3.5% from last year’s record January-March.

March imports were 495,195 TEU. As with total throughput, it was the fourth-highest monthly import ever and the highest since May last year.

Diagram: American sender based on data from the Port of Los Angeles

Huge progress compared to December

The sequential month-on-month increase in imports is particularly telling. March imports rose 17% from February. Imports in March increased 29% compared to December, when incoming volumes hit the lowest point since June 2020, a month in which the United States was in the midst of shutdowns.

Los Angeles import
Diagram: American sender based on data from the Port of Los Angeles

Rising import volumes usually signal greater pressure in the supply chain ahead. In this case, it may be the opposite.

Record-high cargo volumes have been stuck waiting in ship queues off U.S. ports. The decline in Los Angeles’ December numbers up to Christmas was not due to a decline in demand for import services. Rather, it was due to landslide bottlenecks that prevented more cargo from being unloaded from the queue.

In March, the actual amount arriving in California from Asia should be seasonally reduced due to the lunar New Year holiday in February in China. But imports increased as more ships in the queue were unloaded. Between the beginning and the end of March, the number of container vessels waiting off Los Angeles / Long Beach dropped from 60 to 48, or 20%, according to statistics from the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

“Here’s what I think is behind our strong first quarter,” Port of Los Angeles CEO Gene Seroka said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Firstly, better fluidity in our ports. We have been working on this for a long time, and it pays off. We have fewer vessels waiting in line and more speed at the terminals. We also have much more room to maneuver. terminal asphalt.

“Second, we have more workers at the port, and fewer shifts are being cut. That’s because we’re past omicron. And third, we’re using more data than ever.”

Too early to sound clear

When the final settlement of the supply chain crisis occurs, it should first look like an increase in import volume (as offshore queues are relieved), followed by a downturn.

The figures from the Port of Los Angeles follow the first part of the pattern, but it can only be a temporary postponement. Not only are reductions in the west coast queue slower, if not reversible, but congestion of ports on other coasts remains extremely high.

The Los Angeles / Long Beach queue dropped to just 33 container ships on April 4th. There were 46 container ships waiting Tuesday morning, a 39% increase from the lowest level.

Off the east / gulf coast ports, marine position data from MarineTraffic continued to show very high queue levels on Tuesday afternoon. There are 64 container ships waiting in total, with Charleston, South Carolina, queuing at 16, New York / New Jersey 13, Houston 12, Virginia 11, Savannah, Georgia, six, Freeport (Bahamas) three, and one each next to Philadelphia, New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

Meanwhile, there is still no evidence of a significant drop in import reservations. FreightWaves has a proprietary index of marine ship reservations to the United States, measured in TEUs, indexed to January 2019. This index remains above 200, at about the same level as it was this time last year.

Import of containers in US ports
Diagram: FreightWaves SONAR (To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

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