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West Coast Ports’ Volume Increases in September

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

West Coast ports appear to be recuperating some of the business they lost after last year’s months-long labor strife.

According to a Beacon Economics analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data published Thursday by The Wall Street Journal, ports from Los Angeles to Seattle handled more than half (50.7 percent) of the goods coming into the country in September, while their East Coast counterparts experienced a drop in import market share to 42.6 percent.

However, numbers posted this week by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) told a different tale: a 4 percent decline in West Coast ports’ total container volume in September to 1.32 million 20-foot-equivalent unit containers, or TEUs, compared to the year-ago period and a 2 percent drop in containerized imports.

But with weak traffic also recorded at the Port of New York and New Jersey, it might just mean a slow start to the pre-holiday season, as opposed to shippers losing confidence in the West Coast again—despite some retailers still reporting that last year’s drawn-out dispute impacted their bottom lines.

Contract negotiations between the PMA and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) slowed activity at 29 ports from May 2014 to February 2015, causing congestion as well as a loss in West Coast import market share to 45.9 percent in January and 44.7 percent the following month.

But the situation returned to normalcy in March, after the two parties settled on a five-year labor contract.

And while cargo numbers continue to prove uneven, Beacon Economics analyst Jock O’Connell told the Journal that “shippers are gravitating back to the West Coast.” He also insisted, “As the word gets out, other importers of less valuable goods will follow.”