The Port of Long Beach continues to trail behind New York-New Jersey in the battle to be the second-busiest container port in the U.S.
While Long Beach had its slowest January since 2016, the Port of New York and New Jersey recorded its third-busiest January on record. The East Coast port moved 645,430 20-foot-equivalent units—the standard measure of a shipping container—compared to Long Beach’s 573,772.
The Long Beach figure represents a 14.6% decrease from January 2019 and a 39.6% decrease from January 2022, which was an all-time record. The Long Beach port, however, did see a 5.2% increase from December 2022.
New York-New Jersey saw an 18.5% decrease from its record-setting 2022 January, but a 3.5% increase from January 2019. Like Long Beach, the East Coast port saw a 5% increase in cargo from December to January.
“The Port of New York and New Jersey has proven to be reliable and resilient through the past few years, and our deep relationships and collaboration with all links in the regional supply chain are providing what shippers and retailers need, which is reliability,” Port Department Director Bethann Rooney said in an emailed statement to the Business Journal. “We have been in discussions with many importers that shifted volume to us from elsewhere and are committed to keeping that volume in our gateway.”
The Port of Los Angeles continues to hold the top spot as the busiest container port in the U.S., having moved 726,014 TEUs in January. The figure, however, represents 17.4% and 19.2% decreases from 2019 and 2022, respectively—the two busiest Januarys in the port’s history.
From December to January, the Port of Los Angeles saw a 0.4% decrease.
The falling off of container volume at the West Coast ports comes after the unprecedented backlog of ships and containers that began in late 2020 and lasted through late 2022. The overwhelmed supply chain saw ships waiting up to two weeks for their turn at berth and containers languishing on docks—also sometimes for as long as two weeks.
The backlog pushed shippers to divert cargo to Gulf and East coast ports, away from the West Coast.
The backlog has since been resolved, but labor negotiations between the union representing more than 22,000 West Coast dockworkers and the association representing shippers and terminal operators continue with virtually no public update, as both parties agreed early on to a media blackout. The old contract expired almost nine months ago, and the ongoing talks continue to cast a shadow of uncertainty over port operations, particularly at two of the busiest ports in the country—Long Beach and LA.
Cargo movement through Long Beach continued to fall off in February, with dockworkers moving 543,675 TEUs, according to data recently released by the port. The figure marks a 31.7% decrease from February 2022 and is only marginally higher than February 2020, which was low due to the coronavirus shutting down factories and terminals in China.
In addition to the uncertainty surrounding labor negotiations, a decrease in consumer spending on goods as well as Chinese factories closing for Lunar New Year are keeping cargo volumes down, port staff said.
While cargo volume through the Port of Long Beach is important, generating 70% of port revenue, Executive Director Mario Cordero said during a press conference last week that it is not the only metric by which ports should be judged.
“It’s also about what we exemplify, not only to the community, our neighborhoods, our stakeholders,” Cordero said. “Labor is a big component. The environment is a big component. Environmental social governance is a big factor for Long Beach. And that’s why I believe we are the No. 1 port.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information on cargo volumes at the Port of Long Beach in February.