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Drop in US inbound container volumes accelerates

Photo: Port of LA Ship being assisted by tugboat in port of LA
September inbound container volumes across the top 10 US box ports dropped by their fastest level in 27 months.

According to the latest McCown report, inbound volumes dropped by 5.5% in September, a level not seen since the early stages of the pandemic and greater than the 0.3% seen in July and 0.6% in August.

“West Coast ports drove that overall weakness with a 17.0% decrease overall that was among the biggest drops in years,” said the report. That decrease added to an 11.5% decline in August and 5.1% in July.

While port congestion figures continue to improve, the eastward shift for inbound US cargo remained evident. A 6.6% increase in volume for East and Gulf Coast ports was led by New York and Houston. The report said concern over West Coast labour unrest could have supported the eastward shift.

September marked the 16th consecutive month where East and Gulf ports outperformed West Coast ports in year-on-year percentage terms. The 23.6% gap in performance was the second highest in the 16 months, and compares to 16% average over the same period.

Los Angeles was the weakest performing port in September, down by 26.3% on-year with Houston, Charleston and New York the strongest.

“With signs of slowing volume, the final quarter of 2022 is likely to show less inbound loads than the year earlier quarter,” said the report.

While this report did not touch on the underlying causes of slowing container volumes, other market reports have pointed to inflation in developed economies and low consumer confidence as negative factors for container volumes. For the US in particular, multiple reports have noted high retailer inventories as further reason for volumes to soften.

TAGS: Americas Ports