The anticipated port “peak” season is looking more like a plateau this year, Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said during a virtual news conference on Wednesday, May 31.
While post-pandemic cargo numbers at both the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have dipped following record-breaking cargo months through 2022, Cordero said they are stabilizing into territory that was more the norm during pre-pandemic times.
The 2022 queue of ships waiting outside the harbor “is long gone,” Cordero said. The cargo backed up during the pandemic as folks confined to their homes went on a buying spree for items such as furniture and appliances. That trend has now cooled, thus the decline in cargo flow.
But while double-digit cargo drops have been recorded in both ports, he added, a turnaround is anticipated as 2023 heads into the latter half.
April, Cordero noted, was “the (port’s) best month since October 2022. Cargo was still down 20% from the prior (2022) April, but it did catch our eye.”
May numbers are not yet available, but Cordero said the port anticipates them to be at about 720,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), the industry’s base of measurement.
While not matching up to 2020-22, Cordero said, “it is a positive trend and it brings some optimism that we’ll continue to see some growth in the remainder of this year.”
Looking at 2019 “for insight,” he said, the trajectory of cargo numbers appears to be similar to what was being seen in that year.
“We’re stabilizing at pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
The outlook for the rest of 2023, he added, is that “on average we’re expecting about 700,000 TEUs a month. We don’t expect a traditional peak season, but a plateau.”
Peak season for both ports are times in late summer or September when cargo floods in for the upcoming holidays and back-to-school periods.
The early weeks of July are arguably the peak season, Cordero said, “but September (this year) will be the month we start seeing some increased numbers. Again, looking at the first half of 2023 where we had a double digit volume loss, we’ll be moving away from that negative double-digit loss to a more normal volume that moves through.”
Cordero noted also that the Port of Long Beach has traditionally been the nation’s second busiest port behind the Port of Los Angeles. But more recently, it has fallen to the No. 3 spot, behind the Port of New York/New Jersey.
But those numbers are coming back for Long Beach, he said.
Cordero stressed also the need for the green port initiatives to continue to push forward.
“We’re only going to bring more cargo here if we can do it sustainably,” he said.
The port, he said, will continue to also push forward to increase exports.