The Hollywood star hit by LA's port problem

Port problems weigh on manufacturers
Port problems weigh on manufacturers   

Together, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, account for 40 percent of goods shipped into the U.S. and 30 percent of those leaving. And you never know who's going to get hurt by work disruptions there.

"I've always designed," actress Jane Seymour told CNBC, as she sat in front of a vanity she created. It was lit up like a glamorous Hollywood makeup chair.

"Actually, the real question is why do I think I can act, and maybe there are some people who say I can't," she laughed.

For years, the actress has built a merchandising empire in clothing, bedding, home products, jewelry and furniture. In this last category, her newest line is called Platine de Royale, part of a collaboration with furniture designer and manufacturer Michael Amini of AICO Furniture.

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"In the history of our company, it is in line with our best-selling groups," Amini said of Seymour's branded designs.

Right now, however, a lot of that furniture is sitting on ships stuck in West Coast ports. "Every day we are losing money," Amini said.

For months now, negotiations on a new contract between terminal operators and dockworkers in LA and Long Beach have gone nowhere. At the same time, the work of loading and unloading the big ships bringing in goods from Asia has slowed, with each side blaming the other for the logjam.

A container ship at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A container ship at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.

As congestion continues, some ships have been rerouted. At the LA port, for example, the latest numbers show the volume of loaded inbound containers is down nearly 3 percent this year, but loaded outbound containers are down 16 percent. So-called empties going back to Asia have surged by double digits.

Retailers are expected to show the fallout in fourth-quarter earnings reports. Lululemon Athletica already reduced its full-year revenue guidance, saying earlier this month that it has "about a million units that are stuck at the ports right now." Ann Taylor reported in November that it had been forced to pay more to ship some goods by air.

Cowen & Co. does not foresee a "full-blown strike," like the one that paralyzed ports in 2002, but the slowdown could continue through the first half of 2015.

"Fashion-driven retailers are most at risk," it reported, pointing to Lululemon in particular. On the other hand, it said off-price retailers like TJX, Ross and Burlington Stores "could have upside benefit on inventory dislocation."

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Also benefiting are other ports. CIBC reports that the U.S. West Coast's loss is Canada's gain. Container traffic to Vancouver is up about 3 percent this year, and it's climbed 12 percent at the port of Prince Rupert. "The ongoing issues out of the U.S. West Coast ports provide an opportunity for the Canadian rails and ports to gain market share by highlighting an alternative route for shippers," CIBC said.

None of that helps Jane Seymour and Michael Amini. It's impractical to pay to reroute inventory that's already in port or nearly there.

"We had a furniture show that we spent $1 million a day to be there, for four days, spending $4 million," Amini said. "None of our samples made it, because they got stuck in the port, and it was a pretty big blow to our business."

He currently has 23 containers of furniture waiting to be unloaded, and he's concerned that some may not arrive in time for the large furniture show in Las Vegas next month. "We have customers complaining about the fact that we promised the furniture is going to arrive, and it has not arrived, and they don't know what to tell their customers," he said.

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