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Are US exporters really being shunned by the carriers?

The Port of Los Angeles posted another record performance in February 2022 breaking its own record, handling 857,764 TEUs which is an increase of 7.3% increase compared to February 2021. The volume handled in February 2022 made it the “Port’s busiest February in its 115-year history and represents back-to-back record months to begin 2022,” said a press release from the Port of Los Angeles.

The combined efforts of dock workers, terminal operators and our waterfront partners have improved fluidity and productivity,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “Since November, we’ve been able to increase the number of containers leaving our docks by 16%.

We’re taking advantage of the temporary lull in ship arrivals due to the Lunar New Year production slowdown in Asia to prepare for another wave of imports,” Seroka added. “We expect an increase in those vessel arrivals soon as retailers begin to replenish their low inventories.

Drop in Exports

While the volume of TEUs handled at the Port of Los Angeles thus far in 2022 was 5.4% higher than the volume handled for the same period in 2021, there was a significant drop in full exports in February 2022.

Export volumes dropped 5.7% compared to February 2021 and 4.74% compared to January 2022.

are US exporters being shunned by carriers

This drop seems to justify the informal complaints from US exporters to the FMC about lack of space and equipment for exports offered by carriers. Whether this is due to a lack of availability of export cargoes out of LA or the inability/reluctance of carriers’ to load more full exports and giving preference to loading empty containers back to Asia to serve inbound demand, is not clear.

However, when one looks at the stats, full export volumes out of the largest port in the USA has never gone above 200,000 TEUs per month even when there was no pandemic or congestion.!!!

If we look at the percentage variation from month to month over the last 17 years in export volumes, there is quite a serious fluctuation, with export volumes dropping across several months over the years.

These drops are not much different from the reduction we see in export volumes currently.  So this begs the question “what were the reasons for the drop in export volumes in the past” and “are US exporters really being shunned by the carriers”, because there were no complaints from the exporters then (at least not so persistent).

export container percentage change - Port of Los Angeles

That would be a real question for the trade and possibly the Federal Maritime Commission to explore and identify whether it is really the carriers who are the problem or the country’s export potential itself.

Empty container repositioning on the other hand, continued to increase, going up by 18.26% in February 2022 compared to February 2021, due to the continued heavy demand in Asia catering for US imports which fell by 1% in February 2022 after increasing 11% in January 2022.

Port of Los Angeles exports vs empties

 

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