Imports rose steadily at the nation’s seaports in January, as U.S. retailers and manufacturers restocked after the holidays and Chinese suppliers stepped up shipments ahead of an annual two-week factory shutdown during the Lunar New Year.
U.S.-bound ocean shipments increased nearly 7.7% across all of the nation’s seaports in January, according to research firm Panjiva Inc., which tracks trade data. That followed a record-setting year for import shipments to the U.S., which rose 4.1% in 2017 from the year before as the nation’s trade deficit expanded to $566 billion, its widest in nine years.
“That’s a direct reflection of the overall level of activity in the economy and our continued engagement in international trade,” said Paul Bingham, a trade economist with Economic Development Research Group. “Consumers are still buying goods made overseas and so are businesses.”
Goods from China largely drove that growth, and continue to do so with import shipments from there rising 10.3% in January, according to Panjiva. That momentum will likely slow in February and March as the impact of the annual holiday, which leads U.S. importers to pull forward orders to keep inventories stocked during the pause, works through supply chains.
California’s ports — long the nation’s top gateways for trade with Asia — didn’t see import volume grow in line with Panjiva’s national estimates in January.
The neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together make up the largest seaport complex in the Western Hemisphere, last month imported 747,488 loaded 20-foot equivalent units, a standard measure for container cargo. That was just a 4.6% increase over January 2017. At Northern California’s Oakland port, imports declined 6.6% in January to 75,136 loaded TEUs.
Mr. Bingham said the mix of commodities arriving at U.S. ports in January could be part of the reason the West Coast saw slower growth. Retail goods tend to dominate imports in the third and fourth quarter ahead of the busy holiday season, he said. By contrast, imports early in the year are skewed more toward manufacturing components, which flow toward manufacturing centers that are typically in the Southeast and Midwest.
The Georgia Ports Authority’s Port of Savannah, the second-busiest port on the East Coast, reported a 10% year-over-year increase in loaded import containers, which rose to 169,758 TEUs in January. The Port of Virginia reported a 2.8% rise to 104,150 import TEUs.
Growing competition from East and Gulf Coast ports appears to be luring some shipping volumes away from the West Coast. “As ports elsewhere are increasingly able to handle larger ships, there’s definitely some market share loss that could potentially continue in 2018,” Mr. Bingham said. “There’s no reason to think that’s going to decline.”
That may also be causing a shift in outbound shipments. In January, Oakland’s export volume rose incrementally by 2.1% over the same month last year, while the Southern California ports saw exports decline year-over-year by 3.6%.
Source: Dow Jones