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LA-LB congestion, a headache for US importers as seasonal stock pours in

US retailers are concerned about delays to their holiday merchandise as record import volumes are straining the west coast gateways, in particular the port complex of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is already struggling with lengthening transit times

22 October 2020 - 19:00

US retailers are concerned about delays to their holiday merchandise as record import volumes are straining the west coast gateways, in particular the port complex of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is already struggling with lengthening transit times.

According to the Port Tracker report, published monthly by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates, US container ports handled 2.1 million TEU of imports in August, up 9.7 per cent month on month, and 8 per cent year on year, to reach the highest monthly level on record.



The brunt of this wave of imports has hit the LA-LB complex, and increased further last month as Los Angeles recorded its strongest September tally in its history with its TEU count up 13.3 per cent from a year earlier. It handled 627,000 TEU on average every month in the first half of the year and this jumped to 900,000 TEU in the third quarter.



At Long Beach, the container count was up 12.5 per cent year on year in September.



The port of Oakland reported a 10.6 per cent surge in imported containers on September 2019, to 93,916 TEU, which smashed the port's previous monthly record of 84,901 TEU, attributed to retailers stocking up for the holiday season.



'We continue to see the replenishment of warehouse and distribution centre inventories, along with retailers prepping for year-end holidays,' said Gene Seroka, executive director at the port of Los Angeles.



The surge in e-commerce has been widely identified as the reason for the disproportionately strong surge of cargo flows through the west coast ports, as transit times from Asia to the US interior are faster than routings via the Atlantic or Gulf ports. And faced with soaring airfreight rates, many e-commerce shippers have embraced expedited ocean services to Los Angeles and Long Beach, reports UK's The Loadstar.



NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in Port Tracker: 'Retailers are making sure their shelves and warehouses are well stocked for the holidays. They are stocking up earlier than usual because they know many consumers will be shopping early this year to avoid crowds and shipping delays.'



But Port Tracker predicts a slowdown to 1.86 million TEU in October, down 1.1 per cent year on year, and foresees further decline in momentum for November (down 5.1 per cent year on year to 1.61 million TEU) and December (down 11.2 per cent to 1.53 million TEU). This would add up to 20.5 million TEU this year, 4.9 per cent lower than in 2019.


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