International container traffic through California ports dipped slightly overall in June as global freight flows softened.
Containers handled at Long Beach, the second-largest U.S. container port, rose 3.4%, while business at largest port Los Angeles fell 6.3%, and 4.6% at Oakland. Total import shipments, measured in 20-foot container units, or TEUs, rose 0.5%, totaling 745,517. Exports dropped 2% to 342,326 and empty containers handled fell 8% to 385,790.
U.S. warehouse inventories have been lingering at high levels since 2014, contributing to a sluggish ocean trade environment, said a statement from Long Beach.
Long Beach CEO Jon Slangerup said higher volumes at his port are “an encouraging sign despite soft consumer demand, high inventory levels and an evolving maritime industry as shipping lines continue to consolidate vessel services.”
On a port-by-port basis, Los Angeles recorded a 3.55% drop in imports, a 2.1% decline in exports and moved 14% fewer empties; Long Beach imports rose 5.5%, exports slipped 0.1% and 2.2% more empties moved across the docks; Oakland imports rose 0.8%, exports dipped 5.2% and empties dropped 14%.
“June was not as robust as the same period of 2015 due to industry trade patterns,” said Gene Seroka, executive director at Los Angeles.
Deutsche Bank analyst Robert Salmon said in a report that “the slowdown in June does not bode well for near term freight demand, and seems more consistent with retail and manufacturing commentary about elevated inventories after surprisingly strong April and May [totals].”
His report also noted that the Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates isn’t forecasting growth in cargo at major ports throughout North America until October.