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Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach post solid February volumes despite timing of Lunar New Year

While facing difficult annual comparisons due to the timing of the Lunar New Year, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) and the Port of Long Beach (POLB) each posted solid February volumes, according to data respectively issued by the ports late last week.

Total POLA January volumes, at 705,306 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units) marked a 2.7% annual decline compared to the all-time February high and was off sequentially compared to January’s 852,440 TEU, which saw a strong boost from in advance of the Lunar New Year, a time when production in some Asian countries sees a slowdown and results in some cargo moving in January rather than February, noted port officials. POLA said that even with the annual decline, this marked the third highest-volume February for the port.

POLA imports, at 348, 316 TEU, fell 9.1% annually, and exports, at 142,554 TEU, fell 9.5% annually. Empty containers rose 16.3% to 214,436 TEU.

"After the busiest seven months in the history of our port, the anticipated ease in cargo volume provides an opportunity for us to regroup with our stakeholders,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka in a statement. “With an uneven trade flow, we will be closely evaluating next steps for enhancing supply chain efficiencies.”

At the Port of Long Beach, total volume came in at 596,616 TEU, which marked a 9.8% annual decline. Imports were off 11.5% to 302,865 TEU, and exports dropped 19.6% to 105,287 TEU. Empty containers, at 188,465 TEU, were close to flat with a 0.1% decline.

Like POLB, POLA officials pointed to what it called a lull in shipping connected to the Lunar New Year, coupled with coming off of a record-breaking January. Even with that backdrop, POLB’s February volume was its second busiest for the month in its 108 years of operations.

“Overall, our volumes have increased and cargo flow has become more consistent as retailers constantly replenish inventory in the e-commerce economy,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero in a statement. “Last year set high standards. We had our busiest months and year ever, but we are still expecting modest growth in 2019.”

On a cumulative basis, POLA and POLB volumes were down roughly 10% annually, and around 14% compared to January, observed KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Todd Fowler in a research note.

Fowler added that while volumes were down, his firm expects an “exceptionally easy March comp,” which should lead to a modest increase for the first quarter.

“Looking ahead, we expect volumes to potentially rebound sequentially in March as the impact of the Lunar New Year subsides combined with additional Easter/spring merchandise, and continue to build ahead of the summer shipping peak,” Fowler wrote.

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