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East Coast Port Traffic Slows on Weak Imports

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Bird's Eye view of APL terminal in Port of L.A./Long Beach.

Bird’s Eye view of APL terminal in Port of L.A./Long Beach.

Pre-holiday season typically means an uptick in port traffic as retailers stock up for the holidays, but with many retailers sitting on heaps of inventory, imports have been weaker than expected.

At the Port of New York and New Jersey, the East Coast’s largest port, container volumes were up 13.4% over last year to 325,534—a record high volume for the month of September—but down 1 percent from August, possibly signaling a slow start to peak shipping season.

Import loads were up 12.4% year-on-year to 163,597 containers, the port reported Wednesday, but little changed from August and the loads were down 4.3% from July.

The slow port traffic is giving railroads and trucking companies cause for concern as many are reporting weak freight demand and predicting sluggish growth in the months ahead, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We expected shipping volumes to come roaring back, but it’s just not as robust as it should be,” Charles Clowdis, a trade economist with IHS Inc, told the Journal. “Everyone is concerned about peak season – the truckers, the steamship lines, the ports.”

On the West Coast, September cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles were down 5.8% to 730.306 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) and imports decreased 9.4%.

Port of Los Angeles director Gene Seroka said, however, that despite the shortfall, productivity at the terminals have improved in the last six months as the port worked to return to business as usual following the labor contract strike and the resulting pileups.

“We are experiencing a consistent pattern of larger ships and more efficient cargo conveyance at volumes that are market leading,” Seroka said.

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