January 2023 – Partial Container Tallies
As a reminder to our readers, we only cite the container volumes that are reported by the ports themselves, not all of which have posted their latest monthly tallies before our publication date. Readers should also note that, unless otherwise indicated, the container numbers appearing in this report represent TEUs.
America’s container trade continued its easterly drift in January, with volumes through U.S. West Coast (USWC) ports plunging to some of their lowest levels in years. One indication of this is that this January’s container traffic at the major U.S. and Canadian ports on the Pacific Coast was uniformly down from pre-pandemic January 2019, while the opposite tended to be the case at U.S. East and Gulf Coast ports.
This trend was especially evident at the Port of Long Beach where inbound loads this January (263,394) were off by 32.3% from the previous January and down 18.7% from January 2019. Apart from 2015, when a labor dispute gummed up operations at USWC ports, this January saw the lowest volume of inbound loads at Long Beach in any previous January since 2012. Again setting aside January 2015, outbound loads this January (105,623) were the fewest in any January since 2009. The total of 573,772 as well as empties this January was the lowest January total since 2016.
Things were better — but only relatively – at the neighboring Port of Los Angeles. Inbound loads (372,040) were not merely down 12.9% from a year earlier, they were the fewest of any January at the port since January 2016. Outbound loads (102,723) were up 2.5% year-over-year but otherwise represented the port’s lowest number of outbound loads since January 2006. Total container traffic through the port in January (726,014) was down 16.1% from a year earlier. It was also the port’s least busy January since it handled 704,398 loads and empties during the first month of 2016.
The Port of Oakland understandably emphasized progress toward its zero-emissions goals rather than its latest container trade numbers in its February newsletter. For, apart from January 2015 – when a work slowdown hobbled container traffic through U.S. Coast ports — the 179,229 total loads and empties the port handled in this year’s first month made it the port’s least busy January since 2010. That, of course, was when the nation was struggling to right itself following the Great Recession. Again excepting January 2015, the 66,637 inbound loads the East Bay port discharged this January were the fewest in any other January since 2013. As for the 57,279 outbound loads the port processed this January, you have to go back to 2002 before finding a January in which the port handled fewer outbound loads. Even in the ill-starred January of 2015, Oakland shipped more outbound loads than it dd this January.
[The Port Authority of New York/New Jersey has not released itsr January container statistics.]
Up in the Pacific Northwest, negative numbers proliferated on both sides of the border. At the Northwest Seaport Alliance Ports of Tacoma and Seattle, import loads in January (79,067) plunged 30.0% from a year earlier and were down 38.5% from the pre-pandemic month of January 2019. Export loads (38,637), while up 3.8% year-over-year, were down 47.0% from the same month in 2019. Total traffic, including domestic as well as international shipments, amounted to 213,095, a 21.7% fall-off from a year earlier and a 34.7% drop from January 2019.Across the border in British Columbia, January’s numbers were mildly less disappointing.
Inbound loads (121,081) at the Port of Vancouver were down 8.2% from a year earlier but also 28.9% below January 2019’s volume. Outbound loads (59,966) did rise by 20.1% year-over-year but that only served to mask the fact that January 2019 saw the port ship 31,432 more outbound loads than it did this January. Counting empties and loads, January’s total volume (247,473) was down 21.1% from January 2019.
Even further north, the Port of Prince Rupert recorded 39,012 inbound loads, down 5.9% year-over-year and down 28.4% from January 2019. Outbound loads (11,215) were down 13.5% from the same month in 2022 and down 13.5% from the same month in 2022 and down 34.6% from January 2019. Total traffic (76,564) was off by 3.6% from a year earlier and down 6.0% from January 2019.
Along the East Coast, the Port of Virginia posted the highest January numbers in the port’s history. Inbound loads (134,589) were up 5.5% from a year earlier, while outbound loads (96,431) jumped by 38.6%. Total container traffic (288,380) was up 10.1% year-over-year and up 20.1% over pre-pandemic January 2019.
The Port of Charleston saw a 7.2% year-over-year drop in inbound loads (108,786). Otherwise, this January saw the highest volume of inbound loads in any previous January in the port’s history. Outbound loads at the South Carolina port in January (59,965) were up 10.5% from a year earlier but down 9.9% from pre-pandemic January 2019. January saw 215,238 loads and empties transit the port, a 4.9% dip from a year earlier but 4.7% over its total throughput in January 2019.
January was also a more leisurely month for the Port of Savannah. Inbound loads (210,084) were down 15.9% from a year earlier and just 0.6% higher than in pre-pandemic January 2019. Outbound loads, by contrast, leapt by 21.4% year-over-year. Even that, however, was 11.3% less than in January 2019. Combining loads and empties (421,714), the Georgia port handled 11.5% fewer boxes than the previous January and 1.9% fewer boxes than in January 2019.
Down along the Gulf Coast, the Port of Houston sustained a 5.8% fall-off in inbound loads in January (149,400). Still, the volume of inbound loads this January was up 22.9% from January 2021 and up 56.7% from January 2019. Outbound loads through the Texas port in January (113,875) soared by 31.0% year-over-year. Other than a January 2020 surge in polymer exports through the port, this January was the port’s top month for outbound loads. Total traffic 319,990) was down by 1.1% from the preceding January but up 48.9% from pre-pandemic January 2019.
For the Record: Complete December 2022 and CY2022 TEU Numbers
Starting our review in Southern California, San Pedro Bay continued to be an unhurried gateway for container trade as 2022 concluded. The Port of Los Angeles reported handling 352,046 inbound loads in December, the most in any month since August but still 8.6% fewer than in December 2021 and down 23.6% from the hyperactive 2020. Outbound loads, however, bounced up 36.2% from December 2021 to 96,518 but that was still down 19.7% from December 2020.
Over at the Port of Long Beach, the 241,643 inbound loads in December were down 32.6% from a year earlier and off 40.5% from December 2020. Outbound loads (115,782) were up 1.6% year-over-year but down 12.5% from December 2020. Total traffic at the port YTD (9,133,657) was down 2.7% from 2021 but up 12.6% from 2020.
Collectively, inbound loads through the two San Pedro Bay ports in December (593,689) were down 20.2% from the previous December and off by 31.5% from December 2020. For the year as a whole, inbound loads (9,334,525) were down 7.5% from 2021 but up 5.8% from a chaotic 2020. Outbound loads through the two ports (212,300) in December were up 14.9% year-over-year but down 16.0% from December 2020. For all of 2022, outbound loads (2,601,967) were off 0.8% and down 13.5% from 2020. Counting both loaded and empty containers, total traffic through the San Pedro Bay gateway in 2022 (19,044,816) was down 5.1% from a year earlier but up 9.9% from 2020.
The San Pedro Bay ports’ chief East Coast rival, the Port of New York/New Jersey, saw a 22.6% year-over year falloff in inbound loads in December to 303,596, well shy of the 352,046 that arrived at the Port of LA. Outbound loads at PNYNJ (102,866) were off by 3.1% from the previous December. Altogether, PNYNJ’s December volumes of loads and empties totaled 613,011, which placed it behind both of the Southern California gateways in terms of total container volumes handled in December. For the entire year, the 9,493,664 loads and empties that passed over the docks at PNYNJ ranked it as the nation’s second busiest port in 2022 behind Los Angeles but ahead of Long Beach.
At the Port of Oakland, the 65,566 inbound loads that arrived in December were the fewest in any December dating back to 2013. Outbound loads (58,302) did represent a 4.6% year-over-year gain, but otherwise this past December was the least busy December for outbound loads since 2001. On a YTD basis, Oakland’s 990,820 inbound loads were down 6.1% from 2021 and down 0.5% from 2020. Total container traffic through the Bay Area port last year amounted to 2,337,125, a 4.5% drop from the previous year. Oakland officials attributed the drop in inbound loads to high levels of domestic inventories curbing demand for new imports.
The Northwest Seaport Alliance (Ports of Tacoma and Seattle) recorded 85,183 import loads in December, the lowest number for any December since the two ports began operating jointly. This December’s container import volume was down 12.4% from a year earlier and down 30.4% from December 2020. For the year as a whole, import loads (1,258,631) were 14.1% lower than in 2021 but were up 0.4% from 2020. Export loads in December (46,781) were up 14.9% year-over-year but down 26.7% from December 2020. For the entire year, the NWSA reported 555,556 export loads, down 19.7% from 2021 and 29.7% from 2020. Total container traffic through the ports in 2022 (3,384,018) was off by 9.4% from a year earlier. It was also 10.9% below the peak set in 2018.
At British Columbia’s Port of Vancouver, inbound loads in December plummeted by 32.3% to 98,438 from 145,373 a year earlier and by 41.2% from the 167,466 inbound loads the port handled in December 2020. YTD, however, the 1,835,407 inbound loads handled in all of 2022 were down just 3.9% from 2021’s tally. By contrast, outbound loads (53,397) in December were up 8.8% from the last month of 2021 but down by 39.5% from December 2020. For the year, outbound loads (703,005) were down 20.0% from 2021 and down 32.6% from 2020. Total container traffic in 2022 amounted to 3,557,294, a 3.3% fall-off from a year earlier.
Further north, the Port of Prince Rupert continued to underperform its past in December. Inbound loads (43,045) were not just down by 25.3% from December 2021, it was the lowest volume since December 2016. For the year, inbound loads amounted to 535,969, the lowest annual volume since 2017. Export loads (12,274) in December and 136,531 for the year were the fewest in any year since…well, the port’s online records don’t go back before 2013. Counting loads and empties, total container traffic in 2022 (1,035,639) was at the lowest level since 2017.
The Port of Virginia saw a 20.5% year-over-year drop in inbound loads in December to 125,715 from 157,590. For the entire year, inbound loads (1,728,911) were up 2.9% over 2021. Outbound loads (90,838) were meanwhile up 2.4% in December and 2.5% for the year as a whole. Total container traffic (3,703,230) in 2022 was up 5.1% from 2021.
At the Port of Charleston, inbound loads in December (104,336) were down 12.1% year-over-year, while outbound loads (63,320) were up 10.8% over the last month of 2021. For all of 2022, inbound loads (1,383,490) were up 6.8% from 2021, but outbound loads (665,458) were down 18.3% from 2021. Total YTD traffic of 2,792,313 represented a modest 1.5% gain over 2021, but a 20.9% jump over 2020.
Down at the Port of Savannah, inbound loads (217,628) were down 8.7% from a year earlier, while outbound loads (107,724) surged by 27.0% from December 2021. For the entire year, inbound loads (2,873,100) were up 2.6%, while outbound loads (1,282,233) slipped by 2.4%. Total traffic through the port in December (440,759) was down 5.2% from December 2021. Total container traffic for the year amounted to 5,892,131, a 5.0% increase over 2021.
At the Port of Houston, inbound loads (136,055) in December were down 8.3% year-over-year, while outbound loads (107,576) were up by 18.7%. YTD, inbound loads (1,916,586) topped the previous year by 17.3% and 2020 by a remarkable 47.8%. Outbound loads in all of 2022 (1,268,440) similarly exceeded the 2021 total by 18.7%. Total container traffic through the Texas gateway in 2022 amounted to 3,974,901 loads and empties, a 15.1% gain over 2021 and a 32.4% increase over 2020.
Nationally, containerized import volumes turned out to be much lower than some analysts had earlier surmised. In a January 9 press release, the National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker had projected that December would see the arrival of 1.88 million inbound loads, which would be down 10.1% from a year earlier. However, in its February 7 update, the Global Port Tracker conceded that inbound loads in December actually totaled 1.73 million.
The Year 2022 Totals by Coast
For the first time in decades, more inbound loads entered USEC than USWC ports in 2022, while the Atlantic Seaboard ports maintained their customary wide lead in outbound loads.
U.S. East Coast ports recorded a 3.7% (+456,881) gain in inbound loads over 2021. At the same time, though, outbound loads were down 4.8% (-297,126) from a year earlier. Along the Gulf Coast, the Port of Houston alone recorded a year-over year bump of 17.3% (+282,561) in inbound loads and an 18.7% (+199,458) jump in outbound loads. USWC ports, meanwhile, sustained a 7.8% drop (-996,953) in inbound loads along with a 5.7% (-237,883) decline in outbound loads.
In terms of all of the loads and empties moving in and out of the ports we track, the five major USWC ports saw a collective 5.6% (-1,480,468) decline in total volume, while USEC ports together posted a 3.7% (+989,111) gain. The three Gulf Coast ports we follow meanwhile posted a combined 11.8% (+534,299) gain in total containers handled in 2022.