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Imports Fall at Second-Largest U.S. Port in July


Imports slumped at the nation’s second-largest port biggest port in July, kicking off the traditional peak shipping season with a whimper.

Last month, Long Beach, Calif., dockworkers handled a total of 637,091 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a standard measure for container cargo. That was down 7.7% compared to the same month last year, propelled by a 5.9% decline in import containers, which dropped to 325,608 TEUs for the month.

Historically, retailers have stepped up imports in July and August, but abnormally high inventories and uncertainty about consumer spending has led to more muted volumes this year. The prospect of a weaker shipping season will weigh on economic growth, as truckers and other logistics businesses face fewer loads to carry.

The Long Beach port’s July performance stood in contrast with the Port of Los Angeles, which together make up the nation’s largest container port complex handling upward of 15 million TEUs a year. In July, imports rose at the Port of Los Angeles, beating one analyst estimate of 1.5% import growth across major seaports nationwide.

Combined with Long Beach, however, July import volume through the Southern California port complex fell 0.3% compared to the same period in 2015. Exports were down 1.8%, and empty cargo containers were off 14%, for an overall nearly-5% decline in volume across the two ports.

In Northern California, imports were essentially flat at the Port of Oakland. Empty containers, which are usually moved in anticipation of trade growth to places where they’re filled with goods before shipping back, rose roughly 30% at Oakland — a bump that suggests some shippers expect trade to grow in the coming months.

But analyst expectations are soft for this year’s peak season, which typically spans from late summer into the fall — and should have started ramping up in July. The latest Global Port Tracker report, published Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and research firm Hackett Associates, estimated import cargo across the nation’s major ports would be down 0.3% in August and off again 0.6% in September.

Source: Dow Jones

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