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July 17, 2019 3:15 PM, EDT

Ports Report Strong TEU Numbers at Halfway Mark of 2019

Port of Los Angeles Port of Los Angeles by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

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Most of the nation’s seaports reached the halfway point of 2019 reporting increased volume in 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) compared with a year ago, which was a banner year for moving cargo.

Through June, the nation’s biggest dockyard, the Port of Los Angeles, said it had processed 4,538,638 TEUs, which puts it 5.3% ahead of last year’s pace when workers moved 4,309,132 TEUs.

The end of June for that port also marks the completion of its 2018-19 fiscal year, and officials said a record was set for the 12-month period. It processed 9,688,252 TEUs, a 5.7% improvement over the 2017-18 period.

“Completing the busiest 12-month period in the port’s history makes me proud of our extraordinary capabilities and grateful to all our stakeholders,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said.

Officials for the 112-year-old port said improvements are planned to increase capacity and make the operation run smoother for the trucking industry.

“With container exchange per vessel at record levels, we will continue to enhance and optimize our port complex in the coming months,” Seroka said. “Creating a universal truck reservation system, moving chassis off terminals and further refining the Port Optimizer are top priorities.”

At nearby Port of Long Beach, however, volume was down 3% January through June, having moved 5,754,524 TEUs compared with 5,931,725.

For June alone, the drop was 10% to 677,167 TEUs processed.

Officials at the Port of Long Beach said the threat of additional tariffs and the rush to get items into the United States had an impact on volume.

“The story we saw develop in 2018 was retailers forwarding goods to beat tariffs,” said Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach. “For 2019, it seems that the cargo is all here and warehouses are filled. That’s disrupting container movement and the growth we would normally see this time of year.”

The Trump administration’s trade war with China, which has resulted in 25% tariffs being charged by both countries, has cast uncertainty into the market for companies, according to BizBuySell.com, an online marketplace for small companies. The administration’s tariffs on thousands of imports have driven up costs for companies of all sizes and hurt the profitability of many.

The nation’s third-busiest seaport, New York and New Jersey, had not reported June results by publication.

At the Port of Oakland, total TEU volume — imports, exports and empty containers — is running 3.6% ahead of last year’s record. Through June, the port has processed 1,254,979 TEUs compared with 1,211,632 last year.

“We remain cautious about our trade outlook as we head toward peak shipping season,” said John Driscoll, maritime director at the Port of Oakland.

In June, the port moved 203,730 TEUs, down 5.4% from last year’s 215,496.

The South Carolina Ports Authority reported record cargo for fiscal 2019, ended in June. Container volume was up 8.8% to 2,393,095 compared with 2,119,873 a year ago.

“As we head into fiscal 2020, we will continue investing in our infrastructure to handle growth, as well as supporting our employees and the entire maritime community who make these significant achievements possible,” CEO Jim Newsome said.

Chairman Bill Stern added: “We look ahead to many exciting initiatives in the coming year, including increasing capacity with further construction of the Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal and securing additional funding to complete the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project.”

The Port of Virginia, the nation’s seventh-biggest facility, reported that at the halfway point of 2019, TEU volume numbers are up 6% compared with 2018. The port has processed 1,454,453 TEUs in the first six months. During the same period in 2018, that total was 1,371,502.

For June, volumes were up 6.9% as 239,329 TEUs were processed compared with 223,840 last year.

The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which operates ports in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., and the Port of Savannah in Georgia, have not yet reported TEU volumes for June.