September 14, 2018 11:00 AM, EDT

Import Surge Drives Busiest August in Port of Oakland’s 91-Year History

Port Oakland Port of Oakland (Ken James/Bloomberg News)

The Port of Oakland on Sept. 13 reported the busiest August in its 91-year history, a record start to its peak season with imports up 9.2% from a year ago.

The port, the third largest in California and among the nation’s top 10, attributed the gains to strong U.S. consumer spending.

RELATED: Ports set volume records as shippers rush to have goods processed before tariffs bite

“We’re encouraged by the solid start to peak season, but there’s still uncertainty in the trade environment,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said. “Let’s see what the next few months bring.”

The port handled an August record equivalent of 85,166 loaded industry standard 20-foot-equivalent units last month, signaling a strong start to the shipping season that builds through October when U.S. retailers stock their shelves for holiday merchandising.

The previous record for August imports was 82,492 TEUs set in 2015.

Export volume, about half the Port of Oakland’s business, fell a bit last month, dropping 3.7%, Driscoll said. The main reason is that wastepaper exports to China have dropped because that country has reduced its demand over concerns about too much garbage mixed with the wastepaper coming out of the United States Driscoll said. The strong U.S. dollar also has softened exports, he said.

But overall, for the first eight months of 2018, Oakland’s total cargo volume — which includes imports, exports and empty containers, is up 3.3 %. If the trend holds, the port would break its all-time cargo volume record for the third consecutive year.

The strong August imports come after an overall solid summer, with import volume in June hitting a record equivalent of 87,207 TEUs, beating the port’s previous monthly record of 84,835 containers set last July. June import volume was up 8.7% over June 2017, the port said.

At the time, there was much speculation that shippers were rushing to beat import and export tariffs in a budding “trade war” spurred by the Trump administration over concerns about unfair trade practices.

Driscoll said efforts to get ahead of tariffs, most of which took effect in July, played a roll, but, “I attribute it mostly to the economy is strong.”

The Port of Los Angeles, America’s busiest, on Sept. 12 reported that it processed 826,638 TEUs in August. That represented a 2.5% dip from August 2017, which was the port’s busiest August ever, but was the second-strongest August in the port’s history and the sixth-busiest month ever at the Port of Los Angeles.

August 2018 imports to Los Angeles decreased 2.8% to 420,573 TEUs compared with the previous year, and exports increased 2% to 162,466 20-foot equivalent containers, while empty containers fell 4.9% to 243,600 TEUs.

Eight months into 2018, overall volumes at Los Angeles have decreased 2.6% to 6 million TEUs compared with 2017 when the port set an all-time cargo record.

The Port of Oakland oversees the Oakland Seaport, Oakland International Airport and nearly 20 miles of waterfront including Jack London Square, and supports more than 73,000 jobs in the region and nearly 827,000 jobs across the United States.

Port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said the import surge is good news for many workers in the region.

“Hundreds of thousands of jobs are impacted by what happens at the seaport,” she said.

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