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Port of Los Angeles 2020 container volumes fall 1.5% from 2019

Highlights

H2 volumes surge 42%, offseting H1 disruptions

Total volumes were fourth-largest in port history

New York — Container throughput at the Port of Los Angeles in 2020 fell 1.5% from 2019 as a surge in import volumes in the second half of the year countered earlier disruptions in international trade.

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Total container volumes at the port last year were 9.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units, the fourth-largest annual volume in the port's history, the port said Jan. 14. The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest container port in North America and the primary entry point for imports from Asia.

Second-half 2020 volumes sharply rose 42% from the first half of the year on a wave of imports from Asia as consumer spending shifted to goods from services as Americans went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our container business in 2020 was the most erratic we have ever seen with volumes plunging nearly 19% in the first five months of the year, followed by an unprecedented second-half surge," Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said.

Import volumes also greatly outpaced exports as shipping lines prioritized the repositioning of empty containers back to Asia, where demand was greatest and container rates escalated.

"Rarely have we seen a time when only one in four containers returning to Asia was loaded with cargo," Seroka said.

Platts Container Rate 13 — North Asia to West Coast North America — was assessed at $4,500/FEU Jan. 14, a 190% jump from $1,550/FEU the year-ago date. Backhaul rates from North America to North Asia jumped to $600/FEU from $350/FEU over the same period.