Container ships are unloaded at the Port of Long Beach's Pier J Monday, July 18, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The Port of Long Beach set a new July record for cargo movement despite consumer spending being stifled by inflation, officials announced Tuesday.

Dockworkers and terminal operators moved 785,843 20-foot-equivalent units (the standard measure of a shipping container) last month, a 0.13% increase from the previous July record set last year. The gain was led by empty container movement, which increased 2.8% to 300,257 TEUs.

Imports and exports actually both declined last month, port data shows. Imports declined 1.8% to 376,175 TEUs, while exports declined 0.5% to 109,411 TEUs.

“We are continuing to seek solutions to improve efficiency as a record-breaking number of containers move through the Port,” Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement.

The port’s efforts to become more efficient have been met with fluctuating success. The backlog of ships awaiting their turn at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles reached 10 on Monday, its lowest point in well over a year, the Marine Exchange of Southern California reports.

The number of ships waiting off the coast or slow steaming toward the San Pedro Bay ports reached a peak of 116—86 container ships—on Nov. 16, according to data from the Marine Exchange.

The number of containers languishing on dock for extended periods of time has fluctuated greatly over the past 10 months, port data shows. In October, the twins ports announced a container dwell fee aimed at alleviating that congestion.

The ports have yet to implement the fee, citing improvements. But the Port of Long Beach’s data portal—which compares the current number of aging containers to where that number stood before the October fee was announced—shows that while the number of idle containers fell in late January to 62% below October’s level, dwelling cargo rose to 9% higher than October’s level as recently as last month.

Since the most recent peak, the number of dwelling containers has declined to 20% below the October mark.

“We hope to relieve some of the stress points by continuing to support a transition of the entire supply chain to 24/7 operations and ensuring our industry partners can track containers with our new Supply Chain Information Highway data solution,” Cordero said.

The record cargo movement comes despite consumers battling inflation and spending less on goods that would be sent overseas via shipping containers, port officials said. Last month, Bank of America noted a “broad-based slowdown” on consumer spending when considering inflation, Fortune reports.

Dockworkers and their employers also are in the midst of contentious contract negotiations to replace the previous contract that expired at the beginning of July. Despite no agreement being reached, the work continues.

“Our waterfront workforce continues to ensure trade moves through the Port at a record-setting pace,” Long Beach Harbor Commission President Sharon Weissman said in a statement. “We continue to strengthen our partnerships with labor and industry to ensure our spot as a leader in trans-Pacific trade.”

Dockworker contracts expire today, but cargo will continue to flow

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.