Ports Report High Volume as Holiday Shopping Gears Up

Thousands of shipping containers sit stacked at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 16. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg News)

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As the nation’s retailers and shoppers gear up for the holiday shopping sprint, two of the nation’s busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, say they are making progress clearing up the tens of thousands of shipping containers that have been backlogged at their facilities.

The Port of Los Angeles processed 902,644 20-foot-equivalent containers (TEUs) in October, an 8% decrease compared with October 2020 — the busiest October on record. Year-to-date, overall cargo volume remains 22% ahead of year-ago levels.

“Amid the array of challenges facing the supply chain, we continue to deliver more cargo than ever,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said. “The National Retail Federation is forecasting a record holiday season as many outlets such as Walmart, Target and Home Depot report strong sales.”

Recent NRF data support this outlook. The group said retail sales in October rose 16.3% year-over-year as consumers began their holiday shopping early, attempting to avoid shortages amid the pandemic-driven supply chain disruptions that dominated businesses and shoppers this fall.

Officials at the California ports said that since Oct. 24, they have reduced the number of empty import containers to 65,080 from 94,851. Containers sitting in the marine terminals for nine days or more have dropped 35%, to 24,361 from 37,410.

“In recent weeks, clearing our docks of imports and empties has been a top priority,” Seroka added. “As a result, we’ve seen a marked improvement of fluidity on our marine terminals, which allows more vessels to be processed.”

Officials at the San Pedro Bay ports on Nov. 22 announced they have delayed for one week implementation of a storage fee for shippers that would have progressively increased depending on how long empty containers sat at the facilities.

The Port of Long Beach also reported a month-over-month decline for October, processing 789,716 containers compared with 806,603 TEUs in the year-ago period, amounting to a 2.1% decline. Still, it was the second-highest total for an October in the port’s 110-year history.


“Every sector of the supply chain has reached capacity, and it is time for all of us to step up and get these goods delivered,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said.

The Port of Oakland had its slowest month in 2021, processing 159,196 containers in October, down 36.1% 216,664 year-over-year. The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which operates facilities in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., had a robust October. It handled 313,430 containers, an increase of 5.7% from last year’s 296,892. Year-to-date, the two ports are up 14.7% over 2020 levels.

Along the Gulf of Mexico, Port Houston notched an 11% year-over-year increase, processing 328,486 TEUs versus 296,210 last October.

On the East Coast, facilities were setting records.

For the first time in its 277-year history, the Port of Savannah, Ga., in October cracked through the half-million mark, processing 504,347 TEUs compared with 464,095 last year. With two months left in 2021, Savannah has nearly matched the 4.6 million containers it moved last year.

Officials also announced that the next phase of the facility’s Mason Mega Rail Terminal is operating, bringing to 18 the number of tracks now functional and increasing intermodal capacity to and from the Port of Savannah by more than 30%.

The Port of Virginia processed an all-time record 318,482 containers in October, up 16.1% compared with 274,215 TEUs last year. Since 2014, the port’s TEU volume has doubled.


“This is a strong run of volume, and our operation, the team behind it, and our labor partners are performing at a very high level,” Virginia Port Authority Executive Director Stephen Edwards said. “We are handling record volumes with no congestion issues. The productivity at our berths, gates and rail ramps is exceptional right now, and we are delivering real value to our customers and the cargo owners choosing the Port of Virginia.”

The Port of Charleston reported another strong month by moving 234,923 containers, making it the third-busiest month in its history and the best-ever October. A year ago, the port moved 216,196 TEUs. Also, the port is on track to shatter 2019’s all-time record of 2,435,000.

“SC Ports provides capacity, fluidity and predictability for retailers as record retail imports flow into the Port of Charleston,” South Carolina Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said. “SC Ports has invested more than $2 billion in port infrastructure in recent years to ensure supply chain fluidity for our customers.”

The Port Authority of New York/New Jersey and Port of Baltimore, which President Joe Biden visited Nov. 10, did not have container numbers available at press time.

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