October volume at the busiest U.S. seaport fell to its lowest level since 2009 as shippers sent cargo to alternate trade gateways to avoid potential disruptions from ongoing West Coast port labor talks, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said on Tuesday.
The data comes as ocean trade activity returns to more normalized levels after booming in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. Seaports like New York/New Jersey, Savannah and Houston have benefited from the uncertainty surrounding ongoing West Coast port labor talks and continue to report robust results.
Port of Los Angles data showed that the facility handled 678,429 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last month - almost 25% fewer than in October last year.
The biggest drag was from incoming "cargo that has shifted to the East and Gulf Coasts due to protracted labor negotiations" between West Coast port workers and their employers, Seroka said.
Retailers like Walmart brought goods in months earlier than usual to ensure they had products on hand for the all-important winter holiday season. This hit October's results.
Beyond that, U.S. demand for physical goods is retreating from the early pandemic's record highs. Consumers who splurged on goods like golf clubs, grills and sofas before infection control measures lifted are now prioritizing travel and other entertainment as inflation squeezes their disposable income.
Imports, which accounted for almost 50% of October's volume, tumbled 28% from the year earlier. Imports, more 13% of the total, fell about 9%. Empty containers, comprising 37% of the work handled at the port, dropped more than 25%.
Year-to-date volume is down almost 6% versus 2021, when Los Angeles port volume hit an all-time annual high.
Seroka expects the downtrend to continue at the Southern California port.
"The November numbers will be soft. So will December," he said.
(Reuters - Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by David Gregorio)