The strong dollar helped drive imports sharply higher at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, and the two delivered their busiest February volumes ever. Together, the two Southern California ports make up about a third of all cargo traffic imported into U.S. ports and are sometimes considered a predictive indicator of the economy.
"March is expected to be strong," said Port of Long Beach CEO Jon Slangerup, although cautioning that it will look negative compared to the year-over-year volumes because "March 2015 was a recovery month. It's shaping up to be a very strong first quarter relative to our history."
At the Port of LA, total container volume was up by 42 percent in February 2016 over the like period a year earlier, while Long Beach — the country's No. 2 seaport after LA — grew volume by about 36 percent during the same stretch. Container cargo imports at both complexes rose by more than 40 percent in February from the prior year, while container cargo exports in the same period grew at double-digit rates.
Granted, LA and Long Beach port volumes from February 2015 were unusually weak due to the U.S. West Coast port labor dispute, severe congestion and goods getting diverted elsewhere. But even so, when comparing LA's container volumes in February 2016 to more normalized volume levels recorded in February 2014 (before the labor strife), it reveals that imports rose more than 30 percent and exports fell less than 1 percent.
The volumes for February 2016 benefited as U.S. importers stepped up shipments of apparel, footwear, electronics and home products ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, which began Feb. 8.